Violence Against the Girl-Child!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Trafficking is the worst example of how Nigerians overseas are mistreated and how no government has ever done anything to safeguard the simple human dignity of Nigerians outside the country. It is high time that we brought these Nigerians and their protection to the top of the agenda, and cracking down like a thunderbolt on trafficking is a good place to start. As a heinous crime, human trafficking should be dealt very strictly. Unless the perpetrators are severely punished, human trafficking cannot be completely checked; stricter laws are absolutely necessary to prevent human trafficking in Nigeria. There is an organized gang behind human trafficking.

Although Nigeria has prohibited human trafficking, thousands of women and children are trafficked to different countries for various purposes. Even today, thousands of Nigerian women have been living very pitiable life in different parts of the world after they were trafficked and sold. The perpetrators of this evil either easily escape the punishment or come out after few months in jail because of these loopholes. Human rights activists, security personnel and lawyers have attributed this to the loopholes in the legal provisions and ineffective implementation.

Since the Nigeria Constitution clearly states that every citizen is entitled to choose her own profession/occupation or trade. Taking advantage of the vulnerability of the poverty-stricken or opportunity seeking people, unscrupulous persons (flesh traders) coerce, entice, lure or sell minors and other gullible persons into prostitution. They make them execute affidavits in front of false magistrates/impersonators stating that they have gone into prostitution of their own volition and they are over 18 years old. Statistics estimates that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people around the world, most of whom are women and children, who have been forced into sexual servitude, forced labour and debt bondage. Through “Nigeria4betterrule” report we hope to raise awareness of the extent of the global trafficking problem.

It took a little 13-year-old girl to trigger the women’s movement to respond to this problem. A small girl committed suicide because she couldn’t bear being sold into prostitution. An initiation ceremony was held. The virgin girl was dressed like a bride by the pimps and senior prostitutes and then sold to the highest bidder, who then raped her. Following this she took her own life. These events received much publicity, and jerked the consciousness of many people.

Prostitution in Nigeria is not limited to girls and women. Government representatives and social scientists try to believe there is no homosexuality in Nigeria. They don’t think there are boy prostitutes, but there are. They deny the existence of homosexuality or that women may also look for male prostitutes. The demand for prostitution is the driving force in sex trafficking; in looking for a solution to prostitution, they look at the destination countries. It is policy and law in the destination countries, such problems need to be investigated here in Nigeria; since most attention has been on the supply side. This is wrong! It should be on the destination countries, countries that are trying to avoid responsibility.

Pimps in Western Europe, cannot find a sufficient number of local women to fill the demand for prostitutes. The sending countries, on the other hand, have a large supply of potential recruits by virtue of their poverty and lack of opportunities. However, the traffic itself “is caused by criminals.” Or, to be more precise, it is caused by a collusion of criminality and official corruption. “Organized crime depends on corruption. . . . For instance, prostitution depends on advertising sex for sale.” Officials are aware of these ads, but often corruption leads them to look away. The trafficking process itself begins with demand. Pimps, seeking to fill that demand, place orders for women with traffickers. Victims are recruited, often with false promises of jobs. Once in the hands of traffickers, the women are “broken in order to accept prostitution”: their passports are taken from them and they are degraded, abused, and humiliated in order to break their will.

The components of demand consist of the buyers (men who pay for sex acts: “men create the demand; women are the supply”); the profiteers (“the traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, mafias, and corrupt officials”) and the culture (the romanticization and glamorization of prostitution and pimping, such as can be seen in certain Nollywood, Hollywood and Bollywood films.

In the Netherlands, which is often considered a model when it comes to controlling prostitution, prostitution and brothels were legalized in the year 2000. The sex trade is said to constitute a one-billion-dollar industry. The country now has around 2,000 brothels and 30,000 prostitutes, 70 percent of whom are foreigners. Reportedly, 40 percent to 80 percent of the prostitution is the result of force or coercion. In the Czech Republic, prostitution has grown into a $200 million industry. Sixty-five percent of the male clients are foreigners; in other words, sex tourism is big business.

You cannot imagine a more heinous crime than trafficking in human beings — the marketing, distribution, and in many cases, sale of women and children to be exploited and abused by others. Those who are complicit in human trafficking deserve our scorn, our rebuke, and ultimately, society’s punishment for this most flagrant of human rights abuses. The report, which is mandated by law, aims to raise global awareness, underscore the growing efforts of the international community to combat human trafficking, and encourage nations around the world to take effective actions to counter all forms of trafficking.

Again, Custodial rapes of women are rampant in Nigerian society. Custodial rapes include rapes by employers, guardians and law enforcing agencies. Our law does not contemplate any independent/special definition of rape as custodial rape though our law has provided for rape of wives below the age of 16 years to constitute rape. In a proposal for amending the earlier mentioned special law, we have demanded inclusion of custodial rape as an offence, as well as to make the principal officer equally liable for the offence committed by his subordinates, even if he was not present at the time of commission of the offence. In one case, a Christian girl fell in love with a Moslem boy, and they married in a shrine, under Sharia law. The police intercepted them. The police arrested the girl claiming she was being trafficked. They separated the boy and the girl. They said they had to do a blood test to determine her age. The girl, Marian, was locked in the office of the Officer in Charge of the Police Station for the night. She was raped the whole nightlong. In the morning she was found bleeding very badly, and she died. When she died they burned her, cremated her, destroying all the evidence. Many NGOs demonstrated about this crime. This government was very concerned, because we had embarrassed them. They said she had died of natural causes.

We have filed a case against the investigating officer for destroying/tampering evidence. After the news leaked out, women and human rights organizations and in particular my organization pressured the police to initiate criminal actions against the perpetuators of the offence. As expected in this case, the accused persons were acquitted for “want of evidence” and they got the “benefit of doubt.” We in “Nigeria4betterrule” immediately initiated a criminal case in court, and after many hassles have finally obtained the court’s cognizance. Unfortunately, the entire prosecution is against us and we had no other alternative to file transfer petition before the High Court as we fear that justice will be denied to us and poor Marian will not get the justice.

The court takes its own time. More stringent laws are not the answer. We would rather have a fair t

rial when justice is actually given. Talking of courts, I have to mention here that our courts are not sympathetic to the cause of women in prostitution. A lawyer had earlier filed a writ application in favour of the earlier mentioned evicted prostitutes. Our Constitution directs the State to prohibit prostitution and this is one of the fundamental principles of state policy. The court rejected the prayer of the lawyer and the prostitutes are still on the roads. One benefit today there is a great concern for prostitutes amongst many NGOs and if we can coordinate this properly, we shall be able to overcome to a great extent the crime of sexual exploitation.

Nigertia4betterrule seeks to raise awareness, protect basic human rights, and empower rural communities. Owing to that, Nigertia4betterrule concluded to work with local communities included freeing bonded labourers, organizing communities into cooperatives and mainstreaming children into the education system through transitional schools. With such assistance, a provident solution can be achieved. The trust has been working with tribal communities in 60 villages in the insurgent Niger Delta to form cooperatives, partner with the government on developmental schemes, and provide day care services and motivational centesimo one particularly noteworthy effort; we helped secure the release of over 1,000 bonded labourers employed in polluted filth zone in 2004.

We beg, President Yar’Adua to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection bill into the National Assembly. The Bill should address all major aspects of trafficking — attacking the conditions that lead to victimization, providing assistance for those who have already been trafficked, and prosecuting those who take advantage of the most vulnerable. Over the past few years, Nigeria has committed more than N40 Billion to anti-trafficking efforts. Last year alone, the presidency spent N95 billion for projects in 101 different borders across Nigeria. That is in addition to the N25 billion spent on program to fight human trafficking in Nigeria.

Recognizing trafficking is an important issue, the Nigerian government is taking action. Sometime ago, the former Minister for women affairs was elevated to the ministerial level, raising the profile of government’s anti-trafficking agenda. Capacitating the crucial links of the public justice system—ordinary citizens, local government units, law enforcers, prosecutors, judges, government and nongovernmental entities involved in victim rehabilitation and reintegration—requires not just clarifying mandates and improving inter-agency coordination and partnership but also training stakeholders to respond to the needs of enforcement. We need to have a zero tolerance policy on trafficking. Little evidence, including proof of acts of trafficking, means of trafficking, prostitution and pornography, and minority is sufficient. Keeping this in mind that the Government of Umaru Yar’Adua, has already registered a Bill in the National Assembly for approval to deal with the issue in a stricter manner.

However, one thing must be borne into mind that laws alone are not sufficient to completely check human trafficking as several other factors are also responsible for this, especially girl trafficking in Nigeria. Poverty and ignorance are other reasons behind this crime. Apart from the strict implementation of the legal provision, social campaign needs to be launched to generate awareness against the crime of human trafficking.

That means aggressive policing and investigation, and swift and severe punishment for the offenders. As long as they feel that they can escape detection or penalty, the traffickers will continue in their despicable trade. Nigeria cases reveal the following chokepoints: enforcers’ harassment, including death threats, from recruiters, “protectors” and backers; lack of enforcers’ training in evidence-gathering methods; and withdrawal of the victims’ interest to pursue cases. Specific cases of trafficking and strengthens institutional capacity, focusing on enforcement, prosecution and victim aftercare.

Nigerian political office-holders need being guarded so they can educate their constituents and prevent the sex trafficking of women and children, which is the most prevalent in the country. That reference details tips for the more efficient gathering of evidence to prove the offense of trafficking in persons. It has been observed that, in the face of victims’ disinterest to file a case due to coercion and harassment from recruiters, it is crucial for the police to know that the gathering and preserving of evidence required for successful case filing and litigation is not limited solely to the victim’s testimony. The reference walks through the legal and practical issues involved in prosecution, from filing and initiation of the case to preliminary investigation and filing of information, arraignment and pre-trial, trial and judgment, and protection of victims and witnesses.

Today, there are over 150,000 prostitutes in this country. If we call for immediate ban on prostitution, we are not helping the women who will be then forced onto the streets, which will not benefit the government, the NGOs or the prostitutes, themselves. Rather a united movement for gradual absorption and reintegration of victims of sexual exploitation including prostitution is a better alternative. To this end, I met with 46 different non governmental organizations and individuals including those wanting to opt out of prostitution and formed the Nigeria Chapter of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. We are holding the Global Conference on “Combating Sexual Exploitation Regionally and Globally” from 26th through 29th June, 2009. We hope through this, we will be able to achieve our purpose. Please pray for us.

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