Sold for sex

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•Nigeria continues to grapple with modern-day slavery

As ever-increasing numbers of Nigerians leave the country to illegally migrate to other nations, the country must begin to seriously investigate the rise in the horrifying phenomenon of sex slavery that has now become rampant.

A particularly disturbing manifestation of the trend can be seen in the story of Precious Ugochi Okoro, a 15-year-old secondary school student who was trafficked to Libya to engage in coerced prostitution. She claims that she was kidnapped by a cousin of her mother and handed over to traffickers who took her to Libya. She was then forced to work as a prostitute and eventually sold to a woman who helped her to secure her freedom.

Her distraught family did not know of her disappearance until her school contacted them three weeks after she was supposed to have resumed. The traffickers even had the temerity to demand ransom from the family for a victim who had already been taken out of the country. Fortunately for Miss Okoro, the Lagos State Command of the Nigeria Police was able to track down the kidnappers and effect her repatriation from Libya.

This sorry tale has all the elements that have combined to make sex trafficking the social cancer that it has become: persistent economic depression, youth unemployment, parental indifference, crass materialism and criminal impunity.

Nigeria’s economic difficulties have been most apparent in the high proportion of youth unemployment that has left millions of young citizens jobless, destitute and desperate. Given the apparent hopelessness that seems to surround them at home, the ostensible attractions of other nations take on added significance. Thus, Nigerian youths continue to risk their lives to reach other countries, in spite of the well-documented tragedies that assail illegal migrants.

The main culprit in the sex-slave saga is Miss Okoro’s cousin who agreed to sell her to the traffickers for just N10,000. No matter how difficult his economic circumstances may have been, it is incredible that he could be so heartless as to betray a close relation for such a relatively small amount of money. When such greed is combined with the ubiquity of criminal gangs specialising in sex trafficking, it can be understood how a young girl can disappear from her own country so easily.

Not least is the seeming lack of parental concern which characterised the response of Miss Okoro’s parents to her disappearance. It is very strange that they permitted a 15-year-old girl to embark on an interstate journey alone, did not bother to check to see if she had arrived at her school safely, only becoming aware of their daughter’s plight when the school contacted them three weeks later. Such lax monitoring only facilitates the nefarious activities of sex-traffickers by providing them with an extended window of opportunity.

Nigeria must begin to properly address the sex-trafficking epidemic that is confronting it. All strategies to this end must aim at making it less easy for citizens to be abducted and transported across state and national borders. The long-delayed national identification system must be made functional without delay. Security procedures should be overhauled to accommodate particularly vulnerable groups like school children, migrant workers and the homeless. Known smuggling routes must be properly policed, and corruption and incompetence within the immigration service should be harshly dealt with.

The country must also embark on a comprehensive effort to repatriate its citizens who are living illegally in other countries. Instead of simply waiting for host countries to expel Nigerians, the Federal Government must work with them to ensure that they are sent home with as little fuss as possible. The greatest anti-trafficking strategy, however, remains the creation of an economically-vibrant nation whose benefits are freely available to all of its citizens.

The Nation news – culled from: http://thenationonlineng.net/new/sold-for-sex/

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