Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi: The trafficking of women and children in Nigeria - the trend and global impact on international migration policies and economy

© Stephan Röhl
© Stephan Röhl

Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi is a lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar in 1976, a notary public and member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK). She is an international gender consultant, researcher and board member of several international and national NGOs. She is the executive director of Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), a women’s human rights NGO with United Nations consultative status.


Human trafficking in Nigeria has assumed unimaginable dimension and has disproportionately escalated in the last two decades due to several factors principal among which is globalization, economic recession and gender discrimination.
Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, in particular the trafficking of women and children both internally within the country and externally across borders to other countries in Europe, Middle-East, West, Central and North Africa.
Although precise data and statistics are difficult to obtain for transnational crimes such as human trafficking because of its clandestine nature, the magnitude of the incidents of the trafficking in women and children especially in Nigeria could be deduced from certain indicators and predominant evidence within and outside the country. This is buttressed from various evidence found since the 90s that over 10,000, Nigerian women and girls were in prostitution in Italy alone and about 50,000 spread in cities across Europe. Nigerian trafficked women and girls in fact constitute over 60% of prostitutes in Italy (UNODC, 2006). Indeed studies have found that Nigeria is the largest single source in Africa of trafficked women to Europe for prostitution and or domestic slavery (Naijafeed, 2011).
Although not giving much prominence, millions of Nigerian children and thousands of women are internally trafficked for exploitative labour, such as sex work, forced prostitution, domestic slavery, farm labour, begging, baby harvesting and other forms of exploitation according to the dynamic inventions of the traffickers.

© Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi (WOCON market outreach for the prevention of human trafficking)
© Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi (WOCON market outreach for the prevention of human trafficking)

Human trafficking was not initially recognised as a major problem in Africa, however with increasing number of African migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Seas in their bid to cross to Europe, many meeting their deaths in the deserts of North Africa, the massive deportation of undocumented or illegal migrants mostly Nigerian women and girls found on the streets of Europe engaged in prostitution, the reality of the change in the migratory patterns and human trafficking trend became glaring.
Examining the root causes of human trafficking is a cocktail of factors blending together and difficult to separate one from the other. However underlying all these factors are the growing economic recession, poverty, underdevelopment, ignorance, corruption and mismanagement of public funds.
A critical analysis will also show that there are historical and cultural factors underpinning some forms of trafficking to some particular destinations all of which globalisation has provided the impetus for the escalation of the transnational crime of human trafficking.
Take for example the trend of trafficking of Nigerian women and girls mostly from Edo State to Europe for prostitution and who have undergone  traditional oath taking or “juju” for example, the question that is often asked is why women from Edo State? The answer lies in the history of migration of people from Edo State to Italy which was initially for legal commercial purposes but with economic recession and global growth in the sex trade, metamorphosed to illegal trading transaction and the trafficking of women from Edo State to Italy for prostitution.
So also the factors leading to the internal trafficking of children could be traced to the accepted culture of fostering within the extended family system designed to stop the cycle of poverty in the family through the fostering of children of poor family members by wealthier family members in the cities. The culture has since been corrupted with total strangers in the guise of helping poor families have trafficked children from their villages internally to cities and across borders under exploitative conditions.
Nigerian Government exhibited some political will to address the issue of human trafficking through the endorsement of the Palermo Protocols and setting the pace in Africa as the first to promulgate anti-trafficking law in 2003. The Government has since set-up shelters in the six geo political zones for the purposes of reintegration of trafficked victims. Tremendous assistance is also being received from some United Nations inter-governmental and international organisations as well as foreign embassies and Governments such as UNODC, IOM, United States of America, Netherlands , Italy and Sweden to mention a few. There are also bi-lateral agreements with destination countries in Europe such as Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Republic of Benin and South Africa.

© Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi (WOCON market outreach for the prevention of human trafficking)
© Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi (WOCON market outreach for the prevention of human trafficking)

Unfortunately most of these initiatives have not yielded the much needed results due to the failure to address the pervading poverty, restrictive and selective migratory policies by developed countries against developing countries. The lack of coordinated and effective enforcement of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other related Matters (NAPTIP) Laws resulting in traffickers getting away with impunity and the absence of structured reintegration programmes to address the mental health situation of victims and prevent re-trafficking have further diminished the impact of the initiatives.
WOCON, other NGOs and groups such the more recent Nollywood actors initiative called “Na wa” have contributed to the advocacy and awareness raising in the grassroots and the cities.
Needless to say that concerted efforts by Governments at local, national and international levels, institutions, NGOs and groups are essential in a coordinated manner ensuring human rights standards towards the elimination of human trafficking in the interest of protection of human rights, global development and peace for all. (22.9.2011)

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