HUMAN trafficking is a global problem. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. According to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, “trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Nigeria is a signatory to this protocol and in its response to ridding the nation of the scourge of human trafficking as well as fulfilling its international obligations, enacted the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003. This act birthed The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) which was created on 14 July 2003. Entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing and administering the provisions of the act, NAPTIP has since its inception, tackled the scourge in line with the functions and powers vested in it. However, the media is replete with reports that show that Nigeria remains a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to human trafficking, including forced labour and forced prostitution. The rescue of thousands of Nigerians being trafficked to Libya is a matter of daily reportage in Nigeria.
The Director General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, stated that over 10,500 Nigerians have been rescued and repatriated so far from Libya, according to The Nation newspaper of July 30, 2018. The Vanguard Newspaper of May 20, 2018 quoted an Edo State government official as stating that no fewer than 100 students of a secondary school in Benin had been trafficked to Libya in the preceding four months. The rescue of victims of human trafficking across several states of Nigeria including Abuja, by NAPTIP, state governments, the police and other security agencies is reported in all news media with alarming frequency. NAPTIP reports that in the period from January to September 2017, it provided protection and assistance to 1,228 rescued victims of human trafficking, and 41.3 per cent or 506 were children under the age of 18.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) in its global estimates for 2017 revealed, among other things, that 152million children between 5 and 17 years are victims of child labour; 72.1million of them are in Africa and 73 million work in hazardous conditions. When children or adolescents participate in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, it is generally regarded as being something positive. Such activities as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families. They do not constitute child labour. Child labour, according to ILO, refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets.
The reports from NAPTIP and ILO tend to validate the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, Nigeria 2015 report to the 13th UN Crime Congress in Doha, Qatar. The report explored the root causes of human trafficking in Nigeria, and among the factors listed were widespread poverty; a desire to migrate to urban cities (or abroad) to work and study; conflicts that result in displacements of people; a weak legal system; and acceptance of the practice of entrusting poor children to more affluent friends or relatives. The National Bureau of Statistics in its multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) for 2017 states that 50.8% of Nigerians between the ages of 5 and 17 are involved in child labour and global estimates from ILO reveal that agriculture accounts for 71% of child labour. While child labour remains a major driver of human trafficking in Nigeria, it also offers an opportunity to well meaning citizens (both individual and corporate) to redress the menace. This is because the efforts of government through its agencies (NAPTIP and security agencies) along with non-governmental organisations to end the scourge in all its ramifications will be hugely bolstered if the rest of society consciously and actively opposes the incidence of child labour.
Aware of the supply chain slavery risks inherent in the food and drink industry, some major manufacturers in the sector, namely Nestle, Unilever and Coca-cola, are increasingly seeing the need to adapt their policies and practices to tackle the problem of child labour especially in West African countries. Efforts by the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) and Okomu Oil Palm Company (OOPC) in curbing child labour are also quite laudable. For instance, Nestlé and its partners have, in recent years, been involving communities in Côte d’Ivoire in a renewed bid to prevent the use of child labour in cocoa-growing areas by raising awareness and training people to identify children at risk. In the same vein, BATN’s supplier code of conduct forbids child labour in tobacco farming operations. To ensure full compliance, the company insists that registered farmers produce a documentary proof that their children attended school during the growing season and this is also validated through unannounced spot checks.
The organisation continually strives to ensure farmers are compliant with ILO Standards, Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP) requirements, local laws for child labour on farms and forced labour criteria. The company is also very active in the fight to curb illicit trade in tobacco, which is increasingly a source of funding for organized crime rings who among other things, engage in human trafficking. On its part, OOPC has a child labour policy that prohibits the use of child labour by contractors and third-party contract workers, or any company and/or institution that does business with it.
The plan by the Lagos State government to commence regulation of the activities of domestic workers, many of whom are children, is also another initiative that will curtail the incidence of forced child labour; expose the dangers inherent in it; change people’s perceptions and deter them from inadvertently providing a market for human trafficking. With the recent commemoration of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, it is hoped that more people will realize the gains achievable in the fight through collective censorship of child labour as well as effective initiatives that help to curb it.
- Elujoba, a public affairs analyst, is based in Lagos