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Nigeria must step up efforts to prevent trafficking

Nigeria must step up efforts to eradicate human trafficking and ensure that existing legal and institutional measures to protect individuals from human trafficking are adequately implemented, says a UN human rights expert.

“Public institutions must be able to fulfil their obligation to protect the rights of victims and survivors of trafficking and promote their social inclusion,” said Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, presenting an end of mission statement at the end of an eight-day visit to the country.

“People are often trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation and Nigeria remains a source, transit and destination country for victims. Some are trafficked to Europe through the central Mediterranean route, while others are sent to countries in the Gulf. Other destination States include Russia, and countries in western and southern Africa.

“Some victims are recruited by their traffickers in the country of origin, but others may start their migration journey voluntarily and end up in the hands of traffickers either in transit or destination countries,” the UN expert said.

Internal trafficking, mainly from rural to urban areas, is also rampant in Nigeria. It affects mainly women and girls who are sexually exploited or placed in domestic servitude and is often overlooked. Boys and men are also trafficked for a range of exploitative activities including child begging, street vending, as domestic servants, mining and stone quarrying, and in agriculture and textile manufacturing.

“I acknowledge the government’s stated political will to address human trafficking, as well as the solid legal and institutional foundations for the anti-trafficking work in the country,” said Ms Giammarinaro. However, the government must ensure adequate funding for anti-trafficking action,” said Ms Giammarinaro.

The expert also called for more help for those seeking to escape trafficking. “People trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation who are returning to Nigeria, often after having gone through horrible experiences of exploitation, detention and torture, need intensive counselling and appropriate accomodation and assistance,” she said.

Ms Giammarinaro welcomed the establishment throughout the country of 10 shelters but suggested that their status as “closed shelters” should be reviewed. “Security issues must be dealt with in a different way, without having recourse to resctriction of movement, which results in a violation of the human rights of survivors,” she stressed.

“Many people men, women and children from Nigeria are still stranded in camps and detention centres in Libya. Their voluntary return should continue to be facilitated, and dedicated programmes should be put in place, such as those already carried out in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, focusing on skills training especially in the field of business management,” the expert said.

“Nigeria has a vibrant and dedicated civil society, running many initiatives aimed at assisting and counselling women and girls affected, and managing shelters. Yet civil society organizations have been operating with scarce resources, which has hindered long-term planning and sustainibility,” she stressed.

The Special Rapporteur is recommending a dedicated government fund is set up to finance civil society organizations’ projects, strengthen partnerships and multiply the impact of actions aimed at empowering victims and survivors.

“Survivors need to be empowered and trained to find their way toward social inclusion, which is crucial in preventing them from becoming subject to trafficking again,” the expert added.

“Long-term measures are needed, especially in terms of management of small businesses, including appropriate monitoring and tutoring, to ensure that such businesses are successful. In this context, women and girls should be encouraged to explore new paths other than activities traditionally considered as female such as sewing or hairdressing,” she said.

“Furthermore, we cannot forget the abduction by Boko Haram of hundreds of girls, whose fate is still unknown and who may have been trafficked for sexual or other forms of exploitation,” said the expert, urging the Nigerian government to continue striving for their immediate release.

“Prevention is key to anti-trafficking action. However, awareness-raising campaigns, information and sensitisation initiatives cannot work alone. International donors should fund innovative and community-based projects in areas in which recruitment for trafficking mainly takes place,” the rapporteur stressed.

“The private sector should also engage with the government and civil society to promote skills-training and job opportunities for vulnerable young people, including those returning to Nigeria. To prevent trafficking, it is also of the utmost importance to tackle patriarchal attitudes which perpetuate gender discrimination and the marginalisation of women,” the UN expert said.

Ms Giammarinaro, who became the first holder of her mandate to visit Nigeria, travelled to Abuja, Lagos and Benin City. She met representatives of Government agencies, as well as UN officials and members of civil society organizations fighting against human trafficking, and visited shelters where she met survivors.

Ms Giammarinaro will present a detailed report of her findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2019.

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