Nigeria: Rehabilitating Victims of Human Trafficking, Child Labor

28 August 2012 [from]


Linda Eroke writes on efforts by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Department for Equal Opportunities (DEO), Italy to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and child labour

All over the world, trafficking in human beings has been recognised as not only a serious crime, but an abuse of individual’s human rights. According to the United Nations (UN), it is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity, as it often involves a number of different crimes, spanning different countries and involving an increasing number of victims.

Trafficking can be compared to modern day form of slavery because it involves the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat and deception. It also has consequences not only for the victims but also for their families and the nations involved.

Victims of human trafficking require assistance in order to regain their confidence because of the physical and psychological trauma they experience in the hands of traffickers and this involves medical help, psychological support, legal assistance, shelter and everyday care.

Establishing a National Referral Mechanism

It is against this backdrop that International Labour Organisation (ILO) is working with the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) and other relevant actors to establish a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) that will cater for the needs of victims of human trafficking and forced labour.

NRM is a comprehensive system of cooperation between governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in promoting human rights and combating human trafficking based on common and internationally recognised standards of activity.

The NRM is within the ambit of the European Union (EU)-funded project: “Enhancing the Cooperation to fight trafficking in human beings from Nigeria to Europe” implemented by the ILO and the Department of Equal Opportunities (DEO), Italy.

The establishment of the NRM is necessitated by the need for various actors in human trafficking to set up channels of collaboration in order to have an effective response to the needs of victims of human trafficking and forced labour.

At a two-day National Consultative Meeting for the Development of National Referral Mechanism for Nigeria, ILO Director for Nigeria, Ms. Sina Chuma-Mkandawire, said the establishment of NRM will enhance effective and proper communication amongst organisations providing services to victims of human trafficking.

Chuma-Mkandawire represented by ILO National Programme Coordinator, Mrs. Chinyere Emeka-Anuna, noted that though some form of cooperation and collaboration existed between the different actors (State and Non-state), a NRM was not yet sufficiently institutionalised in the country.

According to her, the first step towards achieving this was the establishment of a task force to facilitate an institutionalised and operational NRM in order to strengthen the capability of the country to provide adequate indentification, assistance and protection, based on international human rights standards, to all victims of human trafficking regardless of nationality, ethnicity, age, race or gender.

“Victims of human trafficking require complex assistance in order to regain their confidence and reintegrate into the society. This involves medical help, psychological support, legal assistance, shelter and everyday care. It is impossible for one organisation or agency to meet all these needs, hence there are many actors working to support victims of human trafficking.

“In order to have an effective response to these needs, there is an obligation to set up channels of coordination, collaboration and of effective and proper communication amongst organisations providing services to trafficking victims, hence the reason for a National Referral Mechanism,” she said.

Speaking further, she said, the ILO had recruited two consultants who had worked with NAPTIP and other relevant stakeholders to develop the concept, methodology and terms of reference to conduct the overall coordination of the referral mechanism.

“Furthermore, the ILO and its partner, the DEO also organised an exchange visit for six members of the Nigerian NRM taskforce and the two consultants to Rome, Italy for them to share experiences and learn good practices from the Italian NRM. Another objective of the visit was to establish links between stakeholders of the Italian NRM and their counterparts in Nigeria,” she explained.

She lamented that forced and child labour were flourishing in Nigeria and other African countries as a result of high rate of unemployment and poverty noting that this had led to abuse, rape and sexual exploitation of victims.

She described human trafficking as a criminal act perpetrated by individuals or group in order to obtain unscrupulous gains thereby depriving victims their fundamental rights as human beings.

Already, four core principles have been enshrined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work that was adopted by the ILO members in 1998. The declaration was based on eight core Conventions, two of which are most closely related to the Palermo Protocol (No. 29 on Forced Labour and No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour). These Conventions are also among the most widely ratified Conventions of the ILO.

Though these principles have been promoted by all ILO’s member states, most countries including Nigeria have however, not ratified the respective Conventions.

According to the ILO boss, the issue of human trafficking in Nigeria is fueled by unemployment and poverty.

“The movement of people in search of gainful employment and a better life is a natural phenomenon. However, when the decision to move is based on false information and untenable promises, on deceit and diverse methods of coercion for the purpose of exploitation, then it becomes unacceptable. It becomes a criminal act perpetrated in order to obtain unscrupulous gains which are pocketed by depriving victims of their fundamental rights as human beings and as workers.

“As we all know, unemployment in Africa is pervasive. National economies are dominated by rural, informal and unregulated sectors. Poverty and the wish to escape it feed the supply side of this ruthlessly exploitative and abusive practice of human trafficking.

“Trafficking in human beings is not only a serious crime, but it is also an abuse of an individual’s human rights. Being trafficked results in the sustained physical and psychological abuse of the victim solely for the financial gain of others and it starts the moment the individual is deceived, persuaded or forced into the hands of the traffickers. Trafficking has consequences not only for the victims but also for their families and the nations involved,” she explained.

Role of Actors

Speaking also at the meeting, Executive Secretary of NAPTIP, Mrs, Jeddy-Agba, said the development of an effective NRM was a cooperative framework through which state actors could fulfill their obligations to protect and promote the rights of trafficked persons.

She explained that the agency through the counseling and rehabilitation department was empowered to develop and implement programmes and policies that would enhance a smooth rehabilitation and reintegration of victims into self-sustaining and productive members of the society.

According to her, adopting a human-rights-based approach to victims of trafficking was a critical step in ending the various forms of abuse they might have undergone before being rescued.

She maintained that an effective NRM was necessary for various actors to fulfill their obligations to protect and promote the human rights of trafficked persons and victims of forced labour.

“A human-rights-based approach recognises that human trafficking is not just a criminal activity but one that has profound human rights implications for victims, governments and non-governmental organisations that must deal with them.

“Though the formal process to this effect is ongoing, the agency has cooperated with several agencies and NGOs in the discharge of its duties. The reason for this meeting is to work towards a more articulated NRM that will be binding to all stakeholders. An articulated and coordinated approach involving all partners will make for better use of resources for rehabilitation of victims,” she said.