Immigration, NAPTIP in fresh onslaught against traffickers, custodians of child labourers
ROLIAT Iyonuoluwapo, a Beninoise, is a regular face on the African Magic Yoruba channel on DSTV. She is a house help engaged somewhere in Lekki, a suburb of Lagos. According to her, she is saddled with the job of house cleaning, tendering the lawn, washing and ironing clothes and above all, ensuring the adequate care of a five-year old boy entrusted in her care. When asked if she is faced with any challenge at work, she said after working tre nuopusly, her back suffers severe aches.
Roliat’s case is not peculiar. There are many cases across the country. In fact, while she is 21years old, there are housekeepers as young as 10 years saddled with adult responsibilities in various homes. Woe betides such child labourer, if he or she fails to measure up to the tasks.
Indeed, there had been cases where such housekeepers had been tortured to death, while some were maimed following accusation of theft, callous attitude towards the child of the employer among other offences.
The phenomenon has become widespread such that it has become a social status to have these helpers around you. Some are engaged as shop keepers, they are ubiquitous in local eateries and mining fields.
The presence of domestic helpers in some houses has continued to generate controversy, attract security attention as well as cause ripples. Until recently, it was almost making nonsense of the campaign against trafficking in persons and brutality to the child labourers. Of more concern is the discovery that some of these employees are not only immature for the task, but they are non-Nigerians without valid travel documents. And worse still, they are sometime deprived of all their earnings
Recent trends in the activities of some government agencies charged with the responsibility of enforcing control over the scourge of exploitative child labour have continue to attract public concerns. The only ready answer to the widespread child labour by such agencies is the porous nature of our land borders which allows unfettered influx of these under aged workers.
Also, socio-cultural barriers are fingered as a formidable obstacle towards fighting the menace.
The situation is dicey if the domestic help is not only a Nigerian, but if he or she is from the same ethnic background as the person he is in the custody. Also, it becomes more intricate if the worker is a sibling to the caretaker. Most cultures in Nigeria, because of bonding and communal relationship are not averse to a relative who presumably has the financial strength to take custody of a younger cousin, niece, nephew whose parents are financially handicap. They see it as empowerment, because of the expected benefit such as educational, vocational training prospects for the child.
But when it becomes the case of housing a foreigner, then the trepidation becomes more heightened because of the current security situation in the country and the usual reservation one should naturally have in keeping an ‘unknown’ person in the house.
According to reports, Nigeria is “a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexl exploitation. Within Nigeria, women and girls are trafficked primarily for domestic servitude and commercial sex exploitation”
More topical is the issue of domestic servitude, which has attracted more attention because of the involvement of underage children. The Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in collaboration with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Person (NAPTIP) has resumed the arrest of these classes of people and the people that supposedly employ them.
According to a United Nations report “there is yet no reliable estimate of the number of children trafficked internally and externally primarily because of the clandestine nature of the phenomenon. The causes of children and women trafficking are numerous. They include poverty, desperation to escape violence, corruption, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance.”
The situation is made worse by the fact that the business is thriving as a global phenomenon and there seem to be no control over its spread. The situation is not different anywhere as countries of the world are making concerted efforts to check this menace.
The NIS Public Relations Officer Chukwuemeka Obua, when prompted of the rising wave of this activity, confirmed to The Guardian that, these children are sometimes smuggled into the country and traded for money. They are not sold directly, but are hired out to those who need their services. The money collected, however, is not used for the welfare of the labourer nor given to the parents.
Worse still, such vendors don’t even bother coming back to check on the welfare of the trafficked person. He acknowledged that “it’s a thriving business that is going on all over the world, very profitable to the perpetrators.
“We encounter issues like you have just related, where people take these children, loan them to people and collect money. Most of which is never used for the welfare of the child. During the investigation of these children that they domesticate, we realised that most of the people they are serving don’t think of getting them enrolled in school. So when we see this kind of situation we move in to protect the child.
“We take them to NAPTIP for further action, they take them to shelter them or hand them over to welfare officials to be returned to their parents or country of origin. The collaboration with NAPTIP and Immigration is very fruitful. We have a desk officer that is seconded to the office. We have the statutory power to prosecute, but when we arrest we take them to NAPTIP for further action”, he said.
The laws establishing the Nigeria Immigration Service is clear on the mandate of its officers and men. They are directly responsible for the monitoring of these young children who are supposed to be under the care of their parents or guardians for effective socialization and propor development.
The NIS established by an Act of Parliament (CAP 171 Laws of the federation of Nigeria 1990) in 1963 with the charge to ensure effective migration management, through aliens’ control, running border patrols, issuance of Nigerian travel documents among others. With the power (Section 7:1) to “refuse entry into Nigeria or to admit into Nigeria subject to conditions, shall unless the Minister in any case otherwise directs, be exercised by notice in writing; and subject to subsection (2) of this section, any such notice shall be given by being delivered by the immigration officer to the person to whom it relates.” As well as authorize him/her to stay in Nigeria or otherwise as contained in various other sections in the Part 1 of the Act.
NAPTIP on the other hand was established in 2003 by the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003. Section 1 (1) of the Act established a multi dimensional crime fighting Agency known as the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP). The law was amended in 2005 as the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration (Amendment) Act, 2005 to give practical translation to some of the enforcement powers of the Agency.
Head of Media, NAPTIP, Josiah Omerole, while confirming to The Guardian that the agency has treated many such cases that related to child trafficking and domestic abuse of underage persons, noted that “the use of under aged children as house helps is against the traffic in persons Act. The Traffic in persons act recommends five years jail term for any person caught and found guilty of the offence. Any suspect that is using an under 18 years old as house help is a suspect, and the Immigration service is mandated by law to prosecute such offenders and we are all partners in the service.
“The agencies are also involved in ensuring that illegal immigrants don’t come into Nigeria and also ensure that innocent children are not enslaved in any way or the other. So, in some cases you discover that some Nigerians, in collaboration with some foreigner nationals, including those from Benin Republic, Togo and the rest of them, go to some of these countries and take children and bring them into Nigeria and distribute them to households, restaurants and markets and collect money from those people. And then these children don’t get to even enjoy the money that is being paid to these people for their services. Neither the parents of the children are given a share of the money. And they don’t bother what the people that they have handed these children to are using them for. So, the immigration has a duty to arrest them if there is need and stop these things from happening. To ensure that people who are coming into Nigeria, especially these children are not enslaved. They do come into Nigeria illegally because some do not have valid travelling documents.
“We have treated many cases like this. What we normally do is that, if we get them at the point of entry, we send them back. When we get them in Nigeria here, we contact the countries they supposedly came from, through these we send them back home,” Omerole stated.
A case in point is the conviction of one Osavize Adanini who employed the services of an 11 years old girl as a domestic help outside her family environment. The accused was however sentenced to two years imprisonment or with an option of N20,000.00 fine.
According to the migration traffic contained in the report of the NIS, Not less than 2.2 million people have passed through the borders of Nigeria in the last six months. The spokesperson of the service said from January to June 2014 alone, 2,287,536 people have legitimately entered and/or exited Nigeria. Out of which a “total arrivals into the country as recorded is 1,181,427, while departure records show 1,181,427. Of these number also, 713,218 Nigerian arrivals and 810,635 departures”.
He also stated “while 4,896 Nigerians were deported from abroad, 1,917 Nigerians were refused admission abroad, while 7,836 others were also refused departure from Nigeria for several reasons. Within the same period under review, 3,825 foreigners were repatriated, 19,668 others were refused admission.
In 2013, about 22,000 illegal migrants were repatriated from Kano, Nigeria to Niger, Chad and Cameroun, while another chunk was also sent to their countries for not having the valid documents to stay in the country.
Meanwhile, legal entry points in Nigeria are 88, but in 2012 alone, the Federal Government uncovered 1,479 illegal crossing points. The number rose to 2000 identified illegal entry points by June 2014.
Obua said efforts by the leadership of the service to bring the situation under control position have succeeded thus far. Noting this is part of the results of the robust monitoring and control of migration the service has embarked upon to bring in the desired outcome. Backed with the Combined Expatriate Resident Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC) issued to 13,000 aliens as at June 2014.
When The Guardian sought the response of some respondents that have house helps, it was learnt that some of these girls are released to the peddlers by their parents for a fee. One of them, a working class mother of three said, she took the custody of the girl when she gave birth to her last child, “the girl was between the age of 13 and 15, at the time I accepted her, I paid a token to the woman that introduced her to me. But she has not come again. This is the third year that the young girl from Ghana, I believe, has been staying with me. I will send her to school later. for now, she helps take care of the house while I’m at work and the children are in school”, she said
Another respondent in Jabi area of Abuja also said a friend in Lagos actually brought the domestic worker to her, when she was in desperate need of someone to help with her house chores. “So far she has been hard working and shown that she is happy staying with us. We provide for her basic needs and intend to enroll her in school at the appropriate time. She has stayed here for two years now”.
Most of these respondents, however, are oblivious of the risk that comes with this easy way. According to Obua, “many of these unknown people employed as house helps, are plain thieves. They come into your house pretending to be nice, you take them in as domestic servants, they watch your movement and when you are not there, they steal your valuables and disappear into thin air. it is a gamble itself to accept such people especially if you don’t know where they are coming from”.
Again, most of these underage ‘imports’ don’t have the valid travelling documents, the Immigration service said it has grown to an international concern, such that granting certain privileges to infants and teens is usually analyzed to the barest. “Child labour or child trafficking is an international matter such that to give passport to infants is not just done, we scrutinize and double check all details. We are very careful to ensure that even the people claiming to be parents are checked”. He said.
Although none of the ‘owners’ of these underage house helps have agreed to maltreating them, Janet (not real name) said her madam occasionally beats her whenever she seem not to do what she expects her to do. “I have been staying with her for three years now, it was in the first year that she will stop me from eating, whenever she complained that I have done anything wrong. There was a time she starved me for two days, but I ate from the remnants of my ‘oga’s food when I was washing the plates.
But as the years roll by, the ‘madam’ has stopped this form of punishment, only resorting to beating her occasionally. But the Togolese girl said she will not go anywhere even if she is asked to go, as she is better off doing the job.
Asked how she got here, the 16 year old said, their neighbour in Cotonou has a Nigerian friend she calls Aunty Bunmi, who comes to buy goods. She always return with a child whose parents are willing to send out to work in Nigeria. So, Janeth’s mother too expressed interest and Aunty Bunmi brought her to Nigeria to work
Asked if she is paid for all she is doing, Janeth said her madam occassionally go to Lagos to see the vendor, to whom money is given to be remitted to her mother monthly. But she does not know if her mother gets the money or not, because since she came, she has not heard from her mother, their neighbour nor seen Aunty Bunmi.
In the course of The Guardian investigation, some of the indigenous house helps maintained that their ‘Aunties treat them well’, they don’t have any cause to complain, considering especially that they have family ties.
Abigail said “my aunty is her mother’s brother’s daughter (her cousin), I was asked to come and live with her when she married because, in our place, everybody is given the opportunity to train their sister (relation) if she is well to do.
“She treats me very well, buys me clothes and gives me food. And I’m also going to school. I came to join her when I was 10, at 18 years today, I’m in SS 2 (Senior Secondary School), she and her husband are the ones paying my school fees. So I don’t have any complain.
Another case The Guardian encountered was that of Helen, who according to her explanation does not have family relationship with her ‘Aunty’, but the Aunty out of benevolence had taken her in after she married.
“Her friend lived near our house, so she was always coming there when she was a student. My parents rented an apartment in the same compound and I was staying with them. She picked interest in me and when she got married, she asked my parents that she would like to have me live with her. My father agreed that as long as she is ready to pay my school fees, there is no problem. So I have lived with her now for seven years. “My aunty is nice to me, she is paying my school fees and also at Christmas period we will visit my parents and give them gifts for the season.” She said.