A group of children at an anti-kidnapping event in Calabar
Security and child rights activists in Cross River state are determined to put an end to the scourge of child abduction which is prevalent in several local councils in the state.
Particularly in Calabar, the state capital, December is synonymous with merriment. It is a month of revelry, loaded with non-stop social and cultural activities under the re-branded Calabar festival which, incidentally, ends today.
While tourists flock to the city, sharks gather in rural communities of the state to prey on innocent youth. These human sharks from the cities sail to the hinterlands with unlimited promises.
As smooth talkers, they easily succeed in taking young people away.
On the prowl
These individuals have, in the last 10 years, found the rural parts of Cross River state a source for steady supply of cheap labour for plantations in the south west zone of the country, commercial sex workers and houseboys/girls for urbanites, and casual workers in factories, building sites and others.
This recruitment peaks every last month of the year and in first month of a new year.
The visitors cash in on the festive mood of the parents and guardians to lure their children and wards away.
This vice had remained intractable, despite efforts against it.
A few years ago, the Cross River state government enacted a law against human trafficking. On May 26, 2009, the child rights law came into being. But the problem is largely caused by the inability of the state government to enforce these laws.
The traffickers have also continued to devise new ways of carrying out their trade every year. Agents in the rural areas are recruited to take the ‘human cargo’ away; and the agents recoup the monies spent in this quest through commissions.
Sometimes though, their mission is made easy: when guardians and children are carried away by the flashy appearance of some of those trafficked earlier, who visit for Christmas.
But no year passes without these communities receiving two or more bodies of children who have died while serving their masters. They die from torture, unsafe abortion, HIV/AIDS infection, industrial accidents or ritual sacrifice.
To the rescue
Now, security agencies, NGOs and vigilante groups in urban and rural areas of the state have formed a coalition to check the rising menace. The police, immigration service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Network to Curb Sexual Abuse (NETCUSA), traditional rulers and youth leaders are in this coalition.
These groups have stepped up surveillance of rural areas henceforth to ensure that young people, especially those from broken homes, orphans, poor families and school dropouts, widows, teenage mothers and street children amongst others are not driven out of the state in lorries and trucks either at night or day.
Maureen Adama Dawodu, the officer in charge of Anti-Human Trafficking/Child labour at the immigration service, said more children were being trafficked nationally and across national borders.
Mrs. Dawodu listed poverty, lack of adequate education, conflict and ignorance as causes. She said traffickers often beat the laws put in place by changing their tactics from time to time.
“These ever changing trends include deception (false employment offers, adverts for husband overseas, promise of good job and lying about work condition]. Under coercion is threat to life, physical restraint, use of (witch) doctors, charms and promise of disastrous misfortune. Another is abduction,” she said. “These traffickers also make use of transportation – including petrol tankers covered with no windows – to deceive enforcement agencies.”
The officer explained that trafficking in Nigeria is usually for the purpose of baby-sitting, making of babies, prostitution, house helps and forced marriages to old men.
Sensitising the people
Recently, child-based NGOs led by NETCUSA have launched a sensitisation campaign across the state to preach against the evils of human trafficking. Founder of NETSUSA Bene Madunagu said there is no difference between slave trade and human trafficking.
Mrs. Madunagu, a professor at the University of Calabar, said “human trafficking is fast becoming endemic given the increase in abdication of parental roles, love of children for material wealth, population explosion, unemployment, get rich quick syndrome, display of wealth by those who have and lack of government’s programmes to accommodate the needs of young people.”
The local government areas notorious for the vice in Cross River State are Yala, Bekwara, Ogoja, Obanliku, Igede (noted for child labour), Yakurr, Abi, and Ugep, Ediba, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Calabar (noted for prostitution).
Mrs. Dawodu said the battle against human trade can only be successfully waged at the grassroots level.
She also called for the establishment of special courts to try cases of human trafficking.