Arming the media against human trafficking ...the UNODC, ILO and IOM initiative

Arming the media against human trafficking ...the UNODC, ILO and IOM initiative

Two centuries after the abolition of slave trade, in which over 10 million Africans were sold to Europe and the Americas like beasts of burden, Nigeria is still losing thousands of her citizens to the illicit and dehumanizing trade in form of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Out of the estimated 20.9 million victims of the modern slavery globally, 3.7 million are from Africa and many of them are Nigerians. And the media, which have the power and social responsibility to curb the situation through public enlightenment, are not doing enough. This was the ugly fact emerging from the 3-day workshop organised recently in Lagos for media practitioners. 
The workshop, jointly organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Office on Migration (IOM), was aimed at creating awareness among media practitioners on human trafficking issues to enhance proper media coverage of the subject, with the ultimate goal of stemming the scourge. It was sponsored under the European Union funded projects; ?Enhancing Cooperation to Fight Trafficking in Human Beings from Nigeria to Europe? and ?Enhanced Multi-stakeholder Cooperation to Fight Human Trafficking in Countries of Origin and Destination?, respectively. 
Participants at the training workshop, numbering over twenty, were drawn from various media houses across Nigeria. The resource persons were from academia, the media, government establishments and Non-Governmental Organisations concerned with human trafficking and other related matters. They included Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, Head of Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Mrs Anne Ikpeme, who represented the UNODC representative in Nigeria, Ms Mariam Sissoko, Chinyere Emeka Anuna, who represented the ILO Director for Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Ms Chuma-Mkandawire, and Mrs. Eugenia Abu of NTA, the anchor person for the workshop.
To set the tone for the workshop, which began on 26th July, 2012, Mrs. Eugenia asked every participant to define human trafficking from his or her own understanding of the subject ? a kind of filling the knowledge gap exercise. At the end of the exercise it was discovered that the subject wasn?t a common knowledge even among journalists. Hence, each lecture began with definitions of relevant terms. 
Chinyere Anuna defined human trafficking, in accordance with the latest international definition in the UN Trafficking Protocol, as ?The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation?. The exploitation, according to her, include sexual abuse, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
She pointed out that the term ?smuggling of persons?, which is often confused with human trafficking, are two different things, though sharing some similarities. According to her, smuggling of persons means the movement of a person across national border without proper documents, sometimes under dangerous condition, for the purpose of making money. She added that in most cases, the smuggler maintains no control over migrants when they reach the final destination.
The resource persons took turns analysing the character, statistics, and implications of the phenomenon in Nigeria and globally and how the media, government, organisations and indeed individual could help in curbing the menace.
Nigeria is said to be both a transit and destination centre for human trafficking. She experiences internal trafficking, which takes the form of recruitment and transportation of especially children from rural to urban centre for labour under exploitative conditions. She also experiences external trafficking, in which persons are transported out to other countries for various forms of exploitation.
According to statistics, human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world after arms and drug trafficking. And in the last twelve years, the phenomenon has considerably increased globally. Women and children are said to be the worst hit due largely to their vulnerable nature, ignorance, greed, poverty and discrimination. In the words of Ms. Sina Chuma-Mkandawire, ?at any given time, there are 20.9 million people in forced labour situations in the world, and 11.4 million (55%) of them are women and girls, while 9.5 million (45%) are men and boys; 4.6 million are sexually exploited and 14.2 million are victims of forced labour?. 
She further asserted that in monetary terms, human trafficking is a very lucrative business, fetching its perpetrators a staggering 32.6 billion dollars in profits every year.
Speaking in the same vein in his paper titled ?Human Trafficking: Stark Reality?, Professor Akinfeleye said out of the billions of dollars generated annually by the perpetrators of the illicit business, 15.5 billion dollars was generated in industrialized economies, 9.7 billion dollars generated in Asia and the pacific, 1.3 billion dollars from Latin America and the Caribbean and 1.6 billion dollars from Sub-Saharan Africa while 1.5 billion dollars was generated from the Middle East and North Africa. 
Other facts that emerged from the workshop included the fact that poverty is the main fuel for human trafficking. According to Ms Mariam Sissoko, some of the victims, who are often poor, are deceived by promises of a better life, a break from their poverty-ridden life. They believe the false promises that they would have a better life and prospects at the destinations.
She also pointed out that insatiable lust for money, ignorance, illiteracy, political and economic instability were partly responsible for the scourge. 
Speaking on the effects of human trafficking, Ms. Sina Chuma-Mkandawire observed that it is a fast growing criminal endeavour that calls for an immediate national, regional, continental and international attention, because it has terrible consequences and far reaching effects not only on the individuals involved but their families, communities and the nation at large. ?Many people have suffered exploitation, abuse and some have even been killed in the process of being trafficked. Trafficking cannot be justified and hence, we all have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to fight it,? she stressed. 
It is in view of these devastating implications that international treaties and protocols have been ratified by many nations including Nigeria. International agreements such as the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Prostitution and Child Pornography, Convention on Elimination of the Worse Forms of Child Labour, Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, were all meant to check the dehumanising trend of human trafficking. 
In line with these accords, Nigeria has made several legal provisions aimed at protecting especially children and women from harm and sexual exploitation. While some state legislatures have passed laws in this regard, the National Assembly has signed into law the Trafficking in Persons Prohibitions Laws Enforcement and Administration Act 2003, which led to the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, in 2003. With its headquarters in Abuja, and offices in Lagos, Benin, Kano, Sokoto, Uyo and Maiduguri, the agency?s responsibilities include, among many others, the arrest and prosecution of those involved in child trafficking through the law courts, and taking charge, supervising, controlling and co-coordinating the rehabilitation of trafficked persons. According to Adetunde T. A., the Lagos zonal Commander of NAPTIP, the agency has done a lot in respect of these functions. He said the agency?s achievements since inception include successful prosecution of over 168 offenders, rehabilitation of victims through psycho-social and medical counselling, and training in various vocations. 
But considering the magnitude of the situation in comparison to government efforts so far, it could be said that a lot still needs to be done. Substantiating this view, Professor Akinfeleye observed that, not only Nigerian government, virtually all countries across the globe have not shown enough commitment to the fight against human trafficking. According to him, in 2006, for instance, for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted.
This makes the complementary roles of NGOs and the media quite imperative. And this is why, according to Ms Mariam Sissoko, UNODC has been in the forefront of the fight against human trafficking in Nigeria since it started work in 2000. In addition to supporting the ratification of the relevant convention, ?UNODC has worked with NAPTIP, state governments and the growing number of NGOs in the country to respond to the human trafficking situation,? she said. 
On its part, ILO?s interventions in the fight against human trafficking also goes beyond supporting the ratification of international labour standards and their adoption into national legal frameworks. According to Ms. Sina Chuma-Mkandawire, ?ILO is also providing technical assistance for building and strengthening institutional and human capacities necessary to protect workers? rights; researching and the establishing of data bases to better informed policies, strategies, and plans of action; and raising the awareness for the potential victims and communities and civil society in sending, transit and destination countries.?
Creating awareness among journalists is quite central to the fight against human trafficking because, in the words of Ms Mkandawire, the general public needs to be aware of the potential risks involved not just for the victim but for humanity in general. It is therefore important, according to her, for journalists to use appropriate definitions when covering human trafficking issues; preferring, for instance, the use of the term ?victims?, rather than ?prostitutes?, which may mislead public opinion from the real problem. ?It is imperative to try to guarantee the protection of personal data and of the dignity of the victims,? she stressed, ?because their rights do not only relate to the elimination of their exploitation but also to their protection after their case becomes public; victims need to be treated with discretion, respect for their dignity and their private life sphere.?
Similarly, Mrs Eugenia Abu enjoined journalists to be accurate and fair in their dealings with victims of human trafficking. She summed it up thus: ?To shame the perpetrators of human trafficking, provide the help line, put the issue in public domain, show the challenges of the trafficked not the trauma, choose your words carefully and be objective.?
As the training workshop came to an end on 28th July, 2012, the general concession among participants and resource persons was that, for the crusade against human trafficking and smuggling to succeed, there must be synergy among the media, government, NGOs, embassies and donor agencies to carry the fight to local areas, where ignorance and poverty are more prevalent. And, above all, there must be good governance, equal opportunities in terms of education, employment, justice and provision of essential facilities to minimize the urge to migrate for the illusive greener pastures in urban areas or abroad, which often turn out to be deserts of misery.


(c) Reported by SUMAILA UMAISHA and published in the New Nigerian newspaper edition of 19th August, 2012. 

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