Reports and videos of Africans being sold in slave auctions in Libya have triggered global outrage over the last two weeks. The auctions were brought to the world’s attention by a video reported by a CNN informant, showing a live auction at one of the many slave markets in Libya. The interviews carried out, and subsequent Nigerian News reports indicate that over 3,000 men have returned to Nigeria since the story gained public attention, and many still remain in detention camps.
Human smuggling and trafficking are crimes that reduce human beings to commodities that can be traded or exploited. Smugglers target people living under susceptible conditions, luring them with deceitful promises of employment, education and similar opportunities. Victims — like the men in the above mentioned video — bet their lives and savings on these promises only to be stripped of their identities and end up as sex/domestic slaves in Italy or are auctioned off to Arabs and slave traders in Libya. Even after this experience, Victory — the 21-year-old interviewed by CNN — still believes he would have had a better future if he had just gotten across the border to Europe.
Modern-day trafficking ages back to 1980s when smugglers took women as sex slaves across border. In 2016, despite Global awareness — the United Nations [UN] Security Council held its first ever thematic debate on human trafficking- there was a proliferation in the number of Nigerian women smuggled into Europe and sold off as sex slaves. Over 3,000 women were smuggled into Italy. Similarly, 26 Nigerian women were allegedly found dead on a boat. The report states that they were sexually abused and murdered by their smugglers.
Furthermore, research developed by the The International Labor Organization, in conjunction with Walk Free Foundation and International Organization for Migration [IOM], found that over 40 million victims were confined in modern-day slavery in 2016, of which women make up 71%. According to the report, 1-in-4 modern-day slavery victims are children.
The video above is a live report of volunteers rescuing victims who have escaped from Libya. Here is an interview with 20-year-old Divine, where she recounts her experience with slave trade in Libya and like her, many victims are either sold or have to pay for their freedom. The lack of income or a revenue stream forces them into involuntary sex or domestic work as a means of surviving. Other victims are either threatened with murder, or traffickers threaten to harm their families if they report to authorities or try to escape.
Systematic inequality and societal norms often fuel trafficking. In some societies, what anti-trafficking advocates and nonprofits define as human trafficking is recognized as pursuit of a better life. The push factors — poverty, oppression, lack of human rights, lack of social or economic opportunity, dangers from conflict or political instability and similar conditions — fuel trafficking and increase the vulnerability of people living in these environments.
The common North and West African practice of entrusting children to more affluent friends and family members may create vulnerability. Children are either sent off to work as domestic help or to seek better opportunities — like education- in the larger cities. These arrangements are cultural norms, but in extreme cases, child domestic work can amount to forced labour where children are held against their wishes or abused by the families they live with. Many victims in domestic servitude situations — where they work for little to no pay and a place to stay — are lured by their abductors with promises of better job opportunities they only realize are bogus after migrating.
Factors that tend to ‘pull’ populace towards migration, such as telecommunications and media representation may impede the efforts of anti-trafficking advocacy groups and nonprofits. The current media outrage and victims actively discussing the dangers of undocumented/illegal migration are a step in the right direction.
Human trafficking is fueled by a high reward, low risk dynamic. This means that traffickers expect to make a lot of money with little fear of legal punishment. The International Labor Organization estimates that traffickers earn profits of roughly $150 billion a year of which 67% is made from sex trafficking, while the remainder comes from forced labour such as domestic work. Trafficking is also fueled by the demand for people.
Human trafficking is literally people demanding human beings and people supplying them — the economic principles of supply and demand. Corporations demand cheaper labour to satisfy the consumer’s demand for cheaper goods. This results in the exploitation of workers at the bottom of the supply chain. The increase in demand for sex workers, especially children and women, fuels sex trafficking.
Lack of adequate legislation and of political will and commitment to enforce existing legislation or mandates are other factors that facilitate trafficking in persons. In 2000, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters [NAPTIP] was formed to combat internal and external trafficking but has shown little impact due to lack of political will to implement.
While we wait for the government to implement anti-trafficking laws, and repel traffickers and human traders, people concerned about internal and external trafficking could help by assisting in improving the conditions that fuel the root causes, and help reduce the financial benefits of trafficking
1. Donate time and/or money to anti-trafficking groups organizations: Organizations like Women’s Consortium of Nigeria empower women and girls and help provide legal and other aids to women and girls in discriminatory situations.
2. Our buying habits often contribute to the demand of exploitative labour. Visit Slaveryfootprint.org to learn how you can reduce your daily ‘slavery footprints,’ and Endslaverynow.org for more on the different types of slavery.
3. Buy fair-trade certified products: This document provides instructions on how to recognize responsibly sourced products [fair trade stamps, Blab certified organizations] and how to support organizations working directly with suppliers.
4. Demand accountability from local businesses [fair trade stamps, don’t support organizations clearly neglecting human rights], provide [fair] employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
5. Support social businesses and products aimed at empowering the bottom of the supply chain.
6. Media realities: Media representation is an important influencer. Recounting the dangers of illegal immigration on the news, in music and recruiting local celebrity advocates will go a long way in enlightening people.
7. Gender equality advocacy groups and campaigns such as ONE’spovertyissexist help raise awareness about the dangers of gender discrimination. Supporting them by spreading their messages or donating time/money can help accelerate the impact of their work.
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