|© UNICEF Nigeria/2005|
|Nigerian children, rescued by police from an attempt to traffic them, gather outside a transit shelter.|
LAGOS, Nigeria, 9 March 2005 - Law enforcement officials in Nigeria are fighting back against child traffickers, as new laws and a more aggressive awareness campaign take effect.
Over 100 children were recovered on the first weekend of March during two separate incidents.
On 4 March, immigration authorities at the border with Togo border stopped a truck carrying 52 children. Four suspected traffickers were arrested, including a man who claimed to be the pastor of a Pentecostal church. The children were allegedly being trafficked for forced labour.
On 5 March, police in Lagos City stopped a refrigerated truck containing 64 children. The children were severely dehydrated. The driver of the truck, a woman, was arrested. The children were from Mokwa, in the Niger state, and were apparently taken to Lagos to work as servants.
In another related incident, the Good Shepherd Orphanage in Lagos was recently shut down by the government for allegedly engaging in child trafficking and the selling of babies. Eleven arrests were made, and the children, including some pregnant girls, were moved to other state institutions.
The children from Togo were turned over to the Togolese authorities in Lagos and repatriated, while many of the children from Mokwa were handed over to the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP). UNICEF is providing technical and financial support to NAPTIP to assist with rehabilitation and health care for victims of trafficking.
“Some of them look very traumatized. Mostly the young ones look quite lost. We are looking to provide some psychological support for them,” said UNICEF’s Roger Botralahy in Lagos, after visiting the children at a transit shelter.
The Nigerian government has enacted a variety of initiatives to combat the surging problem of child trafficking. In July 2003, lawmakers passed the ‘Trafficking in Persons Prohibition and Administration’, which gives law enforcement officials a much-needed legal framework for rescuing victims, and for investigating, arresting, and prosecuting traffickers.
The new law led the way for the creation of NAPTIP, a government agency that disseminates preventative information to the public, educates police officials, and monitors trafficking cases. UNICEF supported the institutional development of NAPTIP, helped to train immigration and police officers, and provided necessary equipment.
“We are working very well with this new agency. Already they were able to convict a trafficker in Benin City,” Mr. Botrahaly said.
|© UNICEF Nigeria/2005|
|Most of the rescued children were girls.|
The combined efforts of NAPTIP and UNICEF have yielded positive results like the arrests made in early March. In addition to enforcement action, public education is vital: Traffickers prey on vulnerable parents who are overburdened with large families and who live under the poverty line. The high rate of children who drop out of school is also a contributing factor. Traffickers are able to easily lure children who are out of school with false promises. As a part of the public education campaign, UNICEF and NAPTIP have started distributing posters, airing radio commercials, and conducting education courses for children in youth centres all over the country.
UNICEF Protection Programme chief Robert Limlim believes the problem is particularly acute in Nigeria because the country is also a strategic transit point for traffickers. “There is high demand for cheap, commercial African labour in other countries. Nigeria is the transit centre for this racket. There’s a lot of money flowing through here,” he said.
A 2003 FOS/ILO National Child Labour Survey estimates that there are 15 million children engaged in child labour in Nigeria. These children are also vulnerable to being forced into prostitution, or, in many instances, are trafficked internationally.
Robert Limlim is hopeful that the problem will subside now that the government has taken more aggressive measures: “Nigeria is clearly struggling with its own major challenges, but also using this to rally and even include other countries to fight this ring of criminals.”