Rising cases of sex trafficking, stakeholders call for special courts to try offenders
Efforts to combat the rising cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation were the focus of deliberation recently in Lagos, as stakeholders came together to discuss new, and strengthen old ways to tackle the menace.
If the fight against the menace must be won, the general consensus after the one-day discourse was that there is a need to establish special courts to try sex traffickers.
Other resolutions by the state and non-state actors working on sex trafficking in Lagos State include; capacity building, addressing gender inequality, promulgation, and implementation of existing law, victim protection and provision of shelter for victims.
Speaking at the event, Anita Nyanjong, Program Officer, End Sex Trafficking, Equality Now, Equality Now, UK and Nairobi, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), noted that sexual exploitation is a growing issue globally, worth billions of dollars each year, and 96% of its victims are women and girls.
According to her, an overwhelming majority of victims of the trade are females adding that the problem of sex trafficking complex and occurs for various reasons, and in different forms.
In Nigeria, Nyanjong noted that trafficking in human beings, especially women and girls, is also not new. She noted that it is an organised crime as many people are involved. “It is a chain or continuum, with people in the crime performing specific tasks. In this organised crime there are recruiters.
She identified how the menace occurs: “Sex trafficking could occur internally or externally (people who feel they can’t make it locality or Nigeria, which leads to migration); due to cultural practices, high rate of unemployment, economic challenge, low arrests, and prosecution. Others are ignorance, women wanting to keep their marriage at all cost, peer pressure and greed.
She identified the traffickers to include people who live in the country and those who sometimes work with agents abroad. “It also involves family members at different stages. While some of them may be aware of what they want to do, others may not know.”
Highlighting actions to be taken in the areas of prevention, capacity building, addressing gender inequality, prosecution, and protection of victims, she stated that one reason the ‘business’ keeps booming is that the legal measures and policies put in place by the government, according to her, are not working effectively.
“Social change often begins with legal change. There are existing laws, but these laws are rather weak. The judicial system is a major setback. Sometimes, a case may linger for years, and this discourages the victims. And even when judgment is secured, most acts of human trafficking for sexual exploitation carry punishments ranging from 5 years to 18 years imprisonment, with an option of fine. This needs to be reviewed for more stringent measures,” she added.
While acknowledging the role and efforts of the National Agency for The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) at combating the problem, she added that more actions need to be taken in awareness creation (carrying community along); partnership and collaboration with stakeholders to create a synergy to work on projects in the area of sex trafficking.
“We must work with returnees/survivors to give them alternatives like setting up small businesses, training, schooling and so on.
Also speaking at the event, representative of NAPTIP Zonal Director, Mrs. Adesola Onigbide noted that while NAPTIP is already working strategy is with five Ps (prevention, policy, protection, prosecution, and partnership), however, more needs to be done.
According to her, over 13, 000 human trafficking victims have passed through NAPTIP, but the organization is working on a new project right now, which is “I am not for sale” campaign. They’ve also embarked on awareness creation in communities, so they can be more involved, in terms of reporting cases and speaking out by victims,” she added.
Participants also proffered new ways to combat the rising trend, while calling for strengthening of existing strategies and laws.
While some say there should be a shift in focus to address the root cause of the problem, others say more can be achieved if relevant agencies can pull resources to work on projects rather than doing it alone.
The role of the different sectors in the nation was also highlighted in the growing global issue.
Reverend Sister Bridget Nwankiro of Bakhita Center, whose organisation works in the area of provision of shelter for victims of trafficking called for an increase in advocacy, inter-agency collaboration, and co-operation in prosecution. “The ministry of youth and social development should help by providing shelter for returnees.”
On his part, Bola Olanrewaju, a forum representative from Nigerian Network against Sex Exploitation for Children, called for capacity building for law enforcement agents, social workers, security agencies, judges, health workers, and faith-based organisations, so they know what to do and how to tackle the issue properly.
“It is essential for gatekeepers to know and be more aware of the situation. The police, immigration, and judges should be trained by attending conferences and workshops, so they can be more aware of the trend.”
And, for Osita Osemene of Patriotic Citizen Initiative, there is a need for the reorientation of the mindset of people, especially the youths, who think that they cannot make it in Nigeria, to discourage irregular migration. “We need to embark on advocacy to discourage youths from traveling with fake documents usually obtained illegally, which subjects them to slavery and sex trafficking when they get abroad.” He said.
The stakeholders also laid emphasis on the role of the faith-based organisations and the media.
While they called on the churches and mosque to preach a balanced message from the holy book, they called on the media to work with the consortium on advocacy.
The event was organised by the Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON) in collaboration with Equality Now, (UK and Nairobi), an international women’s human rights organisation fighting to end sex trafficking.
Tagged “Stakeholders’ Dialogue with State and non-State Actors working in the area of human and sex trafficking,” the main objective of the dialogue was to know the main drivers of sex trafficking, how to proffer solutions to the drivers and also to continue to fight the cause of sex trafficking.
In her welcome address, Mrs. Morenike Omaiboje, director, WOCON, urged participants not to just partake in dialogue, but going back to implement the actions is also paramount.
The event had representatives from NAPTIP, Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Youths and Social development, NGOs and the media in attendance.