Punch Editorial Board
TRAFFICKING for prostitution into Europe by Nigerians has reached a tipping point. In a newly-released report, the United Nations International Organisation for Migration warns that the trafficking of Nigerian women for prostitution is at a “crisis level.” The report, which covers the first six months of 2016, laments that gullible Nigerian girls – some with the help of their families – are being recruited at an increasing rate by criminal gangs for European sex markets. This is alarming; it is embarrassing for the nation.
The IOM investigation found that criminal gangs were exploiting the migration crisis in the Middle East to smuggle Nigerian girls into their sex slavery networks in Europe. It says that the pimps dangle tales of prosperity before the girls and their families, and convey them through migrant camps spread across West Africa. From there, they land in war-torn Libya, where they repeatedly suffer gross abuse. Eventually, they are taken to Europe. In reality, they are being sold for between £4,000 and £10,000, ending up there with debts of up to £40,000 that they have to repay by engaging in prostitution. This is a high-wire game of deception, which should be brought to an end.
Apart from being subjected to abuse, some die on the tortuous journey. Their major destinations are Britain, Spain and, especially, Italy. A flourishing sex trade has been in existence for decades between Nigeria and Italy, but now there is a sharp increase, with Delta and Edo states reportedly heavily involved. IOM officials say “Edo is the hub” of trafficking in Nigeria. It behoves the two state governments to act, and launch aggressive campaigns to dissuade prospective preys.
According to the IOM, 3,600 Nigerian women reached Italy between January and June, nearly four times the figure for 2014, and double the figure in the first half of 2015. At this rate, the final tally for 2016 might surpass the 5,633 recorded in 2015. “What we have seen this year is a crisis, it is absolutely unprecedented and is the most significant increase in the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy for 10 years,” says Simona Moscarelli, anti-trafficking expert at the IOM. “Our indicators are the majority of these women are being deliberately brought in for sexual exploitation purposes.”
The situation is equally terrible in Britain. Kevin Hyland, head of the United Kingdom Anti-Slavery Commission, says Nigerians constitute the majority of the 13,000 modern slaves there. “The rise in the numbers is staggering. Nigerian women and girls are enslaved and sexually exploited here in the UK,” Hyland says. His lamentation resonates with Nigerians. Even at home, prostitution, described as the “world’s oldest profession,” presents a long-standing conundrum. In spite of the seemingly official unwillingness to admit the magnitude of the problem, prostitution is deep-rooted in our communities.
While some of the teenagers are being lured into this depraved life, there are many women who willingly subject themselves to such indignity on the grounds that they want to make ends meet. Their predicament is being blamed on the worsening economic condition. As a result, they dive headlong into prostitution. This is an infantile dream, a hoax being perpetrated by vicious manipulators.
In truth, most of the filthy lucre being made in the global sex trade is being shared by the vicious criminal operators. In Britain, the Office for National Statistics’ computation in 2009 – the first time prostitution income was factored into the GDP – arrived at a figure of £5.3 billion a year. The latest figure from a research by Urban Institute, an American think tank, puts the number of prostitutes worldwide at 42 million. Urban says the global sex trade generates $186 billion, with criminals living large off the proceeds of a trade that is still an offence in many parts of the world. According to TheRichest.com, prostitution is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the United States for criminal gangs.
So, what to do? First, strengthen the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the Nigerian Immigration Service and other border agencies. The government has to infiltrate the sex network groups smuggling girls out of Nigeria. The routes might be many, but the government agents should familiarise themselves with them and curb the activities of the human traffickers before they leave our shores. It is a huge task that will need modern technology, intelligence and information, but the government should not succumb to the gangs profiting from the illicit trade.
NAPTIP is making slow strides. It has to make examples of suspects by prosecuting them and deterring others. For instance, a new law in France imposes a fine of $4,000 on those soliciting sex from prostitutes. In some jurisdictions, prostitution is punishable by a fine, and it is said to be illegal in 109 countries. However, the law alone cannot tackle the scourge. The internet age has even made it more difficult for the law to achieve its aim. Instead of walking the streets in search of customers, sex workers now use online media to negotiate with clients. This way, they evade the long arm of the law.
To redress the dilemma, several countries are adopting the Nordic Model, which was pioneered by Sweden in 1999. The model makes it a crime for the buyer of sex only, not the seller. Iceland, Canada, Norway and Northern Ireland are in this category, while prostitution is highly-regulated in The Netherlands, Poland and Austria. In Switzerland, sex workers must register, undergo mandatory weekly health check-ups and obtain a certificate.
Our government has to do more to sensitise the populace about the dangers of prostitution. We need to put our girls in school and establish programmes that can wean them off the streets. The state governments concerned should establish their own anti-human trafficking agencies, while NGOs should join the crusade in earnest through incentives and well-defined programmes.