From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Nigeria, last week, with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in the vanguard, joined the world to commemorate the World Day Against Human Trafficking, to raise global awareness on the menace of human trafficking and the new tactics adopted by traffickers to lure their targets.
Director-general of NAPTIP, Dr. Fatima Waziri-Azi, shed more light on the new tactics of human traffickers and NAPTIP’s efforts to tackle them.
What was the significance of last week’s event on human trafficking?
It was a great time for us in NAPTIP and our partners. It was a week-long event that was used to raise global awareness and bring attention to the menace of human trafficking, especially the new dimension that it has taken leveraging on the increased penetration of technology. In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly held a high-level meeting and designated July 30 as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. This resolution declared that such a day was necessary to raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking; the promotion and protection of their rights; and mobilize political will and resources to address the global problem. Since the declaration, various state parties, including Nigeria, have been taking several actions to commemorate this day, every year. This year’s celebration is very unique because we have the full involvement and active support of our major partners and stakeholders. These are partners that have stood by us, consistently, supported our work and have continued to show remarkable interest in curbing human trafficking in Nigeria. We are most grateful to them for always working with us and responding positively whenever we call on them. The United Nations has chose the theme “Use and abuse of technology” for this year’s event. This theme focused on the role of technology as a tool that can enable as well as impede human trafficking. The theme was timely and couldn’t have come at a better time considering the fact that human traffickers now operate online as much as they operate offline. If COVID has taught us anything, it is the re-enforcement of the need for digital channel of communication, which has led to a massive digital transformation.
You raised the alarm recently that human traffickers are now operating and recruiting in digital space. How long has this been going on?
For as long as I can remember. This online recruitment has been going on for quite a long time. Unfortunately, many young people are falling victim of their antics, irrespective of our several campaigns. International Organizations for Migration (IOM) had confirm that human traffickers have gained mastery of digital tools and are using them to woo young Nigerians particularly those between ages 18 to 34, for forced prostitution, labour and other illegal activities abroad. It 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. While some of these victims are trafficked to Europe, the Gulf countries, Asia, Russia, others are sent to West and Southern African countries mainly for sexual and labour exploitation. But I believe the campaigns through our social media platforms have been helpful in the sense that we would have had more victims of human trafficking than what we currently have. 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 organize transportation for victims, communicate amongst perpetrators, and hide criminal proceeds.
What are you doing to counter their online criminal activities?
We are matching these people and making progress. In September last year, we went into partnership with Meta, owners of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, and National Centre for Exploited and Missing Children. We did that because they would enable us to enhance tracing of online-related activities of human traffickers. That partnership gave us access to thousands of information that were being shared on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, which are owned by Meta. We have received over 70,000 reports to do with online trafficking activities and extortion. We are currently investigating our first extortion case. The suspect is a young man who used nude photos of a young lady and was trading with it online. It took us two months to track and apprehend him.
Are you also aware of rising cases of missing children in Nigeria?
Yes, we are aware and we are taking lots of step towards solving that problem. Our partnership with Facebook will also enable us track and solve these cases of missing children in Nigeria. Undoubtedly, there is incremental cases of missing children in Nigeria. We have lots of cases of buying and selling of children, cases of cryptic pregnancies (fake pregnancies) and lots more. We launch NAPTIP alert in September. It’s an initiative of Facebook in Africa. This is the second in Africa, the first was in South Africa. This means that when a child is declared missing and the case is reported to NAPTIP, the information will be shared with Facebook, and the social media platform will release the photo and the relevant information of the child to the news feed of Facebook users within a 160km radius where the child was declared missing. Those are the two key partnerships we are commencing with Facebook.
What of child labour?
It a big problem for us and we continue to record cases of child labour. We have a lot of domestic servitude issues where people hire underaged children for domestic works. NAPTIP establishment Act is very explicit on what constitutes domestic servitude. It’s exactly when you recruit, transfer, receive or harbor any child under the age of 12 that is a crime. If caught, all that are involved in the value chain are punished according to the law. We have noticed that open season for child labour is at the beginning and the end of the year. For instance, last December, we had lots of cases of child labour. We had one in Kogi where somebody went and packed children and told the parents that he was going to put them in Islamic school but the children ended up somewhere in Kogi state where they were forced to work in a farm all year round. Similarly, NDLEA recently intercepted a bus full of children leaving Ogun state to Abuja, and they were handed over to NAPTIP for investigation. So, undoubtedly, child labour is a big problem that we need to tackle. We have regulation 2019 that we are expanding to make it more responsive.
Aside from partnership with Facebook, do you have in-house measures to track these online activities?
We have also set up our own in-house cyber crime task team that is dedicated to tackle this online crimes. We also have ongoing joint investigations with Interpol Nigeria and international. Similarly, we also have joint investigations with DSS and other local and international security agencies. Human trafficking is a multi billion dollars business and there’s need for the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure that we cut the chain.
Many people are trafficked every World Cup year. Are you prepared to monitor their activities this year?
Yes and we have a strengthened regulation to help us achieve that. In 2019, the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, issued the Trafficking in Persons Control of Activities of Organizations and Centres Regulation. This regulation gave NAPTIP the powers to regulate, control and issue clearance certificate to travel operators, tour operators, travel agents, and to all intending travelers who wants to leave Nigeria for the purposes of cultural, sporting, educational activities, as well as labour recruitment. It also covered all organizations and shelters that work in the area of rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking.
Has the regulation been operationalized?
Yes, and to operationalize the regulation, we developed a portal this past February where individuals and organizations visits to register, upload all necessary documents and make necessary payments. We have seen an increment in compliance level and registration by organizations, travel agencies and individuals, and this was made possible through the media that helped us to disseminate the information.