From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) has raised the alarm that human traffickers have invaded the digital space, using different digital tools to lure their victims with, perhaps, unrealistic mouth-watering offers and opportunities.
The Agency said that more young people who are actively present in social media and other digital spaces/tools are ignorantly falling victims to the antics of these human traffickers, an indication that there is a shift from physical recruitment to virtual recruitment through virtual assessment of victims and proxy negotiations.
NAPTIP Director General Dr Fatima Waziri-Azi, disclosed the development in Abuja, on Monday, at a press conference to herald the week-long events to mark the 2022 world day against human trafficking with the theme “use and abuse of technology”.
She said that the 2022 commemoration focuses on the role of technology as a tool that can enable, as well as impede human trafficking.
She said: “This theme is timely, couldn’t have come at a better time considering the fact that human traffickers now operate online as much as they do offline. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the re-enforcement of the need for a digital channel of communication which has led to a massive digital transformation.
“The fact remains that, while technology has come as a great relief and a major boost in the way of life of people, the same has left much to be concerned, because human traffickers have also caught on to this digital transformation.
“The internet, unarguably, provides easy access to a larger pool of potential victims because geographical limitations no longer exist, thereby increasing the ease with which traffickers locate and recruit their victims; control and organise transportation for victims, communicate amongst perpetrators, and hide criminal proceeds.”
She said that NAPTIP has, lately, recorded a significant increase in reports of fake job advertorials and fake scholarships via social media, as traffickers use the platform to recruit unsuspecting victims. “Traffickers also use the digital platforms to control their victims. Besides oath taking, they make nude videos of their victims and threaten to share the exclusive images online,” she added.
She said the Agency has secured a partnership with Meta, owners of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to use their expertise to monitor online activities that expose Nigerians to human traffickers.
The Acting Chief of Mission, International Organisations for Migration (IOM), Ms Prestage Murima, in her remarks, confirmed that human traffickers have gained mastery of digital tools and are using that to woo young Nigerians, particularly those between ages 18 to 34, for forced prostitution, labour and other illegal activities abroad.
She said that Nigeria is designated as a country of origin, transit and destination for victims of human trafficking, and one of the countries in the world with the highest number of human trafficking victims. “Some of these victims are trafficked to Europe, the Gulf countries, Asia, Russia and other West and Southern African countries mainly for sexual and labour exploitation,” she said.
She confirmed that IOM is in partnership with Federal Government, the UN, private organisations and development partners to assist vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied and separated migrants children develop their capacity and ensure smooth reintegration into society.
Representative of the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies, Mr Jose Nsang, said their new study has revealed new ways through which victims are trafficked, namely, sporting events, cultural tourism, religious pilgrimage, school excursion, among others
He promised that his organisation will continue to offer support to NAPTIP in its quest to protect Nigerians from the “monsters” called human traffickers.
“Technology has a significant role to play in combating human trafficking because millions of people especially the young people are actively present there. Soz we need to reach out to them with knowledge and skills on how to detect and disrupt the activities of human traffickers. Law enforcement agents should be equally trained and empowered on the ways they can help in achieving this,” he added.