Of Slaves and Masters

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

The practice of moving people from one country to another to work under inhumane conditions is a major concern for many nations. This phenomenon, known as human trafficking, is a major concern for the Nigeria. 45,000 Nigerians are among an estimated 700,000 people transported from their country to work in another under inhuman conditions.

These Nigerians, mostly women, are taken to different parts of the world for different reason. Several studies on the human trafficking phenomenon has shown that the Nigerians that are moved to Europe and the Arab nations are usually introduced into the sex market to service the sexual cravings of Europeans that enjoy the “different and exotic” and to Arab men who are denied pre-marital sex.

In America, the story is different. Those brought here from Nigeria, mostly women and children have been found to be used for some kind of forced labor by the Nigerians and other nationals that bring them. Like those taken to Europe and the Arab nations, those brought to America are usually brought in under shady circumstances, so they end up being illegal immigrants who have no choice than to do the biddings of their “masters”. It is modern day slavery and it is real.

What usually happens to some of the “victims” of these modern day slave merchants who challenge the right of their masters and report them or try to resort to the law for protection is that they are thrown into jails, often treated inhumanely because they actually have limited rights as illegal immigrants. They often get deported.

Their ordeal usually continues in Nigeria where they are put in a kind of “holding camp for deported people” and grilled for days on end by security operatives.

All these may soon change, at least for those Nigerians and other foreign Nationals that were brought into the United States and are at present working in several homes, sweat shops, factories, construction sites and other similar places without any rights, hope or protection from sexual and other kinds of violence. The American government has thrown her full weight behind these people, by the promulgation of a new law to combat the human traffickers.

The new law, known as “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act”, will protect the estimated 50,000 women and children that – according to the U.S. Department of Labor – are transported into the United States annually to become modern day slaves.

This law will ensure that the victims who report that they have been living in the U.S. under a master-slave relationship will not be thrown into jails or deported. They will be treated in ways that will be humane and meet the basic universal human rights requirements. They will be allowed to remain in the country and also be given the benefit to apply to work in a job.

The good news continues, because the law, which was introduced last week by the U.S. Justice Department, also gives prosecutors new tools to get legal immigration status for these victims of trafficking. It, however, offers the traffickers a bleak prospect as the prison term they will get when found guilty has now been increased from 10years to 20years. Those whose victims had been sexually abused or were kidnapped into slavery will get a life term in jail.

According to information made available to this writer by the Criminal Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which assisted in the formulation and enactment of the new law, other measures have also been put in place to ensure the enforcement of the new law.

This includes the creation of telephone hotlines and the enforcement of the recently announced United Nations, “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, designed to thwart the trafficking and sexual abuse of children. The United States is among the 88 nations that have signed the accord, which has also been ratified by several of the countries to put it in force.

The chief information officer at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., Kayode Frederick Martins, explained that the Nigerian Government is not resting in the effort to fight human trafficking. The Nigerian Immigration Service is said to have established control systems in Benin, Lagos, Calabar, Sokoto and Kano, which are the known routes of traffickers.

The Nigerian Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Mohammed Shata, is said to be doing his best to prevent the successful movement of these people out of Nigeria. One of the measures he is said to have adopted is the purchase of more passport reading machines to detect those “victims” who are being taken out under false identities.

The efforts of Mrs. Igbinedion, wife of Lucky Igbinedion, the Governor of Edo state, whose people form a hefty percentage of the women servicing the sexual needs of randy men all over the world, as well as those of some non-governmental organizations in Lagos and Abuja also deserve commendation.

The reality is that there is the flip side to the phenomenon. How do you check the movement of ladies who are willing collaborators with their parents and the human traffickers in the servicing of the sex business in Europe? How do you also describe as a “victim” a person that gives his consent to be taken to “God’s Own Country”, whatever what it takes?

Maybe the new law by the United States Government and other international instruments that have the good intention of protecting those brought abroad to work under inhuman conditions would need to re-examine how to define the word “victim”. Maybe there is the need to make immigration laws less friendly for those without any form of education or skill, like these uneducated girls and ladies, whose only means of living is what is between their legs.

Until this happens, it is possible for the human traffickers to find ways to exploit all current international laws. These modern day slave-merchants may tell their “customers” to exploit the new laws by reporting themselves to the authorities as “victims”, indirectly obtaining the rights to live and work legally in America.

That would be interesting. If, however, you know of anyone who is a genuine victim of human trafficking in the United States, please have the person call this number: 1-888-428-7581. Operators who speak various languages, including some Nigerian languages, are waiting to assist.

*This piece was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.

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