By: VICTOR BUORO
Globally acknowledged as a high-profit but low-risk criminal activity, human trafficking has unfortunately gained attention as the modern-day form of slavery that is expanding in scale with damaging repercussions on humanity and nations’ economic lives.
And going by the definition that; “Human Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit”, it is currently ranked among the fastest growing criminal activities across the globe, comparable to the smuggling of firearms that is considered the second most organized criminal network worldwide.
In recent times, with different interpretations by national governments and experts in criminology, human trafficking has generated a great deal of concerns among stakeholders because of its adverse impact on social lives and the human race.
The threat is becoming more alarming in Nigeria with sordid tales by returnees from Libya and Italy among other foreign countries. Unfortunately, men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds have become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world.
And being a transnational crime that is fast ruining the country’s image within the African continent and beyond, this criminal activity has continued to degrade and dehumanise the victims; fuel public sector corruption and irregular migration; aid the spread of COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases while also promoting money laundering and other financial crimes that clearly distort the nation’s economy.
Regrettably, parents and guardians have become too busy and sometimes so uncaring to effectively monitor the activities of their children and wards or even notice the glaring antics and pranks that are obviously risk-infested and portend danger to themselves and the immediate family.
A situation where children, teenagers, youths and even adults, embark on irrelevant expeditions, secret trips and visits without, but sometimes with, the knowledge of their parents or other family members have been identified as one of the major risk factors that have made many vulnerable while exposing them and their loved ones to avoidable hurt.
Painfully, in their overzealousness, many have deliberately ignored the security tips and public advisory regularly issued by the Department of State Services (DSS) and other law enforcement agencies that urge caution by members of the public, specifically applicants to always guard against falling prey to so-called juicy jobs’ adverts that do not contain comprehensive information on location, specifications and schedules; shun the temptation of subscribing to vague visas and overseas travel promotions that could be the handiwork of human traffickers and scammers or their agents.
Importantly too, verifying information before acting on any calls about untoward incidents involving family members, colleagues, relatives or friends cannot be overstressed; just as the need to careful visiting new friends or meeting colleagues at unfamiliar or unspecified locations; and restraint in dishing out and advertising vital personal information on social media platforms.
Similarly, stories are abound where some individuals have inadvertently exposed themselves to danger by standing in as guarantors and sureties for people who may have changed over time, thereby becoming agents that aid and abet the criminal activities of society’s bad eggs.
Given the sophistication, secrecy and ‘value chain’ in organised crime which human trafficking has evidently become, synergy among security and law enforcement agencies as well as partnership with the public cannot be overemphasized. However, making the matter a bit more complicated is the fact that some unscrupulous elements within the security agencies and even greedy parents and relations are supportive and in cohort with those perpetuating this criminal activity across the country.
With the way things are going globally, adopting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to combat human trafficking should also be the way to go by the Nigerian authorities. Though no technology can be termed perfect or full proof, there is no denying the fact that with conscious efforts, any technology, would over time, evolve with improvement to make it more relevant and responsive in tackling existing as well as emerging challenges associated with this modern day ‘slave trade’ and other related crimes.
Pointedly, security agencies like the DSS have not relented in their collaboration with relevant government establishments to give human trafficking syndicates tough times running their criminal activities. In January this year, the Service was on hand assisting NAPTIP to rescue a Burundian woman and her three children from traffickers in Umunoha village, Mbaitoli Council of Imo State where they were being held captive and exploited.
The victims were rescued during a sting operation carried out on their holding mud house by the combined team of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Department of State Services (DSS). Thanks to a tipoff by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the four foreigners duly regained their freedom from where they were cramped under inhuman conditions.
Without making much fuss about it in the public domain, the Service has continued to play active part in bursting child trafficking syndicates across the country with its various State Commands recording huge success in stemming the tide of their criminal activities.
Recalled an incident on July 6, 2015 where four suspects were arrested and the victims, comprising 12 males and 24 females, rescued from homes in Yenagoa and Kaiama in Bayelsa, Port Harcourt, and Enugu-Agidi in Anambra, having been forcefully turned into house helps.
As indicated in their public advisory, most disturbing is the fact that the suspected syndicates sometimes operate under the guise of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that usually approach parents and convinced them to release their wards under the pretext of assisting the children to acquire good education only for such kids to end up as house helps and sometimes worst as sex slaves.
Forward looking, it is important to support the position canvassed by many well-meaning individuals and groups that human trafficking offenders and perpetrators should serve sentences commensurable with the magnitude of offences committed to send the appropriate message as a major deterrent to culprits.
Concerns have also arisen that a situation where some offenders often escape justice with light sentencing has led to cases of repeat offenders now posing a grave danger to the dimension of human trafficking in the Country.
Therefore, continuous citizens’ sensitization and awareness creation on how to curb the menace are very crucial. This is against the backdrop that the inherent fear of reprisals cannot be ignored since many victims and their families are afraid to come forward and incident cases, amid the limited enforcement resources and shifting legislation coherent enough to address this thriving crime.
Hammering on the need for continuous enlightenment and sensitisation in the local communities nationwide, one DSS official said; “There is need therefore for members of the public to be sensitized on the need to be circumspect in the way they give out children or take in children from such unscrupulous modern day slave traders.”
Certainly, these routes are the way to go in effectively addressing operational and other existing challenges in the fight against human trafficking.
On the whole, relevant government establishments like NAPTIP, security and law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and Intelligence Community, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) and traditional institutions as well as international bodies must embrace and deploy robust partnership as a strategy to check and eventually suppress the crime of human trafficking in the country.
With subdued optimism, this collaboration should help calm the frayed nerves and broken spirit of most victims, always left in a pitiable traumatic state to nurse wounds inflicted on them by heartless and exploitative traffickers, who often are erroneously or unintentionally pampered with light sentencing by the courts.
So the ball is in the court of judicial officers to compliment the works of security and related agencies by always considering the victims’ plight and exploitation in deciding cases of human trafficking rather than over relying on the salient technicalities that often deny them adequate justice.