Child trafficking: Primary school pupil narrates ordeal
From BAMIGBOLA GBOLAGUNTE, Akure
One major crime rampant in Ondo State until recently was child trafficking. Many of the victims who were children of this dastardly act were either used for “commercial” begging as prostitutes. This is even as most of the children were abused by their captors.
The situation continued unabated until the Commissioner of Police, Mrs. Hilda Harrison, instituted a unit to deal with child trafficking. The effort has started yielding good results as some individuals including a couple were recently arrested by the police in Ondo, headquarters of Ondo West Local Government Area. The suspects now in custody had already made confessional statements.
A couple and two others were the first set arrested over alleged involvement in the illegal act.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), in charge of Fagun Police Division where the suspects were initially detained before being transferred to the Police headquarters, Akure, Mr. Olu-Ojo Ogunmoyole said the suspects who specialized in street begging were indigenes of Ibadan in Oyo State but worked in Ondo.
He hinted that the suspects were arrested along side two other women, adding that police acted on a tip-off and after investigations got wind of the activities of the suspects. He said five pupils between eight and 10 years were found in the custody of the suspects, and that the suspects were arrested in different locations in Ondo town after series of complaints by residents.
Harrison explained that the suspects often pretended that they were blind and begged for help from unsuspecting members of the public.
One of the suspects, Folasade, said she relocated from Ibadan to Ondo town recently to continue with her street begging business. She claimed to be a victim of circumstance, saying she took the children from Ibadan without the knowledge of their parents. She confessed she had been in the illegal business for over three years:
“I was introduced to the begging business by one Mujidat who is one of the suspects. When we met at the Central Mosque in Ibadan, she told me if she could get under-aged pupils who would be used for the business. I helped her to get two pupils before I joined her in Ondo for the business.”
One of the victims, Ibrahim, said he was a primary six pupil in Ibadan, adding that he was in the midst of his colleagues in Ibadan during the celebration of the last Ileya when he was kidnapped and taken to Ondo:
“I was at Idi-Ape in Ibadan on the day of Ileya festival when the woman held my hands. After some minutes I couldn’t get myself again, before I could open my eyes, I found myself in Ondo town. I slept for about two days before I could get myself back.
“Few days later, we started the street begging business. The first town we visited was Akure and we made a lot of money. They gave us cooked rice in one of the ceremonies we visited. When we got back home they gave me food and told me that my money is N500 on each outing.”
Asked how he got to the police station, he said: “When I could not sleep again and started dreaming about my mother who always wept in the dream and begged me to come back home, that was why I told one of us that I would run away to Ibadan.”
The development brought delight to the people of the state, especially Ondo where the suspects were arrested. Residents showered encomiums on the police. Mrs. Felicia Babalola:
“We have been living in danger for a long time. We hear news of children being kidnapped and some taken away. We also noticed strange faces in our neighbourhood. This prompted us to suspect some people in the area.
“We are happy with the development. We believe this will serve as a warning to others involved in the unlawful work. The police have really made us proud by arresting these people. Our prayer is that the matter will be deeply investigated and others in the same business will be arrested in no distant time.”
A commercial bus driver, Mr. Ayotunde Olusaseun, said street begging has become embarrassing in the town: “Some of these people involved in street begging are not with their parents. They are suffering seriously because the money they make is given to those who brought them.”
He urged police and government to examine those involved in street begging with a view to sanitising the society.