Child trafficking is fast assuming a disturbing dimension in the country. It is a problem that requires all hands on deck to check. A few days ago, the Special Task Force (STF) in charge of internal security in Plateau State, in collaboration with the Police, intercepted three suspected traffickers conveying 145 children in two trucks from Bauchi and Jigawa states to Plateau, Kaduna and Nasarawa states. The children were said to be between four and eight years old.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Mattias Terna, who confirmed the incident, said the command had, prior to the arrest, observed the transportation of minors by suspected child traffickers from other states to some states in the North-Central zone of the country.
The command, he said, has made progress on how to return the children to their parents, while the suspects would be charged to court soon. In addition, the Plateau State Police Command says it is already liaising with Jama’atu Nasril Islam(JNI) in the state and other key stakeholders to guard against such illegal trade in future. Earlier, on December 23 last year, four persons were arrested in the state with 49 male children, who were later returned to their parents.
We commend the police in Plateau State for their vigilance which led to the interception of the children. It is good that efforts are on to return the children to their families and prosecute the child traffickers.
However, beyond these two critical steps is the need to determine the purposes for which the children were being trafficked and to break the ring perpetrating such an odious business. It is not enough to just prosecute the arrested persons, it is very important to determine to whom the children were being taken and for what purpose, with a view to ensuring that the business is stopped
While the rescue of the 145 children in Plateau State is good news, it underscores the enormous challenge that child trafficking poses. This is in spite of efforts by government agencies to curb the illegal business. Last year, statistics released by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP) revealed that about two million persons, most of them women and children, are trafficked in Nigeria annually. According to the Acting Director, NAPTIP, Abdulrazak Dangari, 75 percent of the victims were trafficked across the states, 23 percent within states, while two percent were moved outside the country.
The figures also show that human trafficking is common in at least 20 states of the country. Among these are: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Rivers, Ebonyi, Edo, Imo and Lagos. Others are Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara, Niger, Sokoto, Jigawa, Taraba, Yobe and Ondo. Outside the shores of Nigeria, the illegal business is equally flourishing. It has given Nigeria a bad image. In the American State Department’s 2013 “Trafficking in Persons Report”, Nigeria was described as a “source, transit and destination country for human trafficking”.
As an infamous ‘source country’, it is alleged that women and girls are trafficked into the sex trade from Nigeria into Europe. And, as a transit country, the U.S. State Department report sees Nigeria as a “conduit for trafficked persons” coming through the porous borders of neighbouring Cameroun and Niger Republic.
Although this may be an exaggeration of the situation, the indisputable fact remains that the illicit business dehumanises our children and dents the image of our country. Drastic measures need to be put in place to contain human trafficking, as the efforts on ground appear grossly inadequate and ineffective.
All levels of government in the country should do everything possible to stop the country from being a destination for trafficked persons from smaller West African countries like Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. Undoubtedly, child trafficking has become a serious problem in the sub-region. The recent claim by NAPTIP that over 5,000 trafficked Nigerians have been rescued indicates the scope of this problem. It demands that much more should be done to stem it.
We must emphasise that the conviction of offenders so far is insignificant. It is not enough to deter traffickers. Suspects should be prosecuted and convicted to serve as a deterrent to the crime. Some of the factors fuelling human trafficking (including child trafficking) in the country are poverty, ignorance and unemployment. In that regard, government at all levels should create enabling environment for job creation to reduce poverty in Nigeria. We can also include trafficking in persons in the Basic and Senior Secondary Education social science curricular, to educate young persons on the existence of the obnoxious practice and how to guard against it.
Beyond that, families should be more alive to their responsibility of providing for their children. Some parents have confessed to selling their children while some give theirs out as domestic servants.
This attitude to children is most wicked, uncharitable and unacceptable. It should be stopped. It is also necessary to institute and faithfully enforce stiffer laws against human trafficking.