Across the world millions of people are trafficked annually in what is reflects slave trade of old.
Experts say children are the most vulnerable group trafficked globally, According to a United Nation report one in every three victims of human trafficking is a child.
Low income countries have a higher proportion of suppliers of child labour. Among the low income countries it is more endemic among West African countries.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the African continent records the largest prevalence of children aged between 5 and 17 years.
Similarly, UNICEF says some countries in West Africa are estimated to have more than 40 per cent of the total population aged between 5 and 17 engaged in child labour.
One of the West African countries where child labour and trafficking are causing serious social problems is Nigeria. The matter is worse in the northern part of the country where insecurity, farmers and herders clashes have aggravated the situation.
The burden is largely borne by those in the rural areas where poverty has escalated the challenge by making it more likely children to be trafficked for domestic servitude and commercial sex exploitation.
Experts say women and girls are trafficked primarily for these reasons while boys are used as labour in construction sites, street vending, agriculture and mining among others.
The security challenges arising from sectarian crisis in 2001, Plateau, a state in north central region of the country has triggered this challenge in the state.
The destruction of lives, properties sources of livelihood as a result of the crisis has escalated poverty in the areas and exposed women, mainly widows and children to trafficking and child labour.
According to Plateau State Emergency Management Board in Plateau, in recent times no fewer than 3,000 children are reportedly displaced in three communities in Miango District, Bassa Local Government Area in clashes between cattle breeders and farmers.
According to National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) human trafficking is a humongous challenge in Plateau.
The agency said all of the state’s 17 local government areas are either points of source, transit or a destination, with Riyom, Bassa and Langtang North local governments as the most endemic.
The agency said it recorded 85 cases of trafficking with 146 victims in the state from March 2021 to date.
According to stakeholders traffickers disguise as missionaries on intervention projects in conflict communities on a mission to rescue children from the aftermath of the crisis, with a promise for quality education, vocational training and other opportunities for them.
They eventually trick parents to release their children.
In Jebbu Miango one of the communities worse hit by crisis in Bassa Local Government Area, the community leader, Chief Gado Dama, said that an NGO from Kaduna came with a representative impersonating as a cleric.
He said the agent promised to assist in the enrollment of children to school in the areas. According to him, it was discovered the agent eventually engaged them in hard labour on construction sites in Kaduna.
The State Commander of NAPTIP in Plateau, Adole Alexander said that 68 children were rescued in 2021 from a fake orphanage called Our Lordship Orphanage in Jos.
Alexander said the operators were recruiting children from Adamawa, Taraba and some LGAs such as Langtang, Qua’anpang and Riyom in Plateau.
In Riyom Local Government Area, Ta-hoss community ranks high in trafficking of minors. NAPTIP observes that in spite of its sensitisation outreaches in the area, communities seem unbothered on ending the act.
Experts say to address the menace concerted efforts would be required from all stakeholders.
A peace advocate, Rev. Samuel Gorro, said governments and other stakeholders should demystify the Child’s Rights Act, by breaking it down to the people at the grassroots.
Gorro, is also the Executive Director of Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN)
He said it should be used as the basis for advocacy in communities where child trafficking is most endemic
“We have the Child’s Rights Law in place and I advise parents to read and understand the policy. I want the state government and NGOs to demystify the Act by making it simple to understand and concise.
“It can be produced and circulated to schools because some teachers do not know about the policy, and the children need to understand it also, “ he said.
He said the action would enlighten parents on the risk of giving their children out to strangers for respite.
According to him, the government should support initiatives targeted women and orphans in communities worst hit by conflicts.
“We want to empower them socially and economically so that nobody comes to them and trick them to take their children, including politically, “ he said.
Similarly, the Child Protection Network in Plateau, an NGO, said its members work in synergy with relevant organizations to address child trafficking in the state.
The acting State Coordinator of the network, Mrs Comfort Zawaya, said through the platform, members coordinate and refer cases of child trafficking for appropriate action.
Having realized the enormity of the challenge posed by child women trafficking and forced labour, Plateau government said it is not relenting in combating it.
The Ministry of Women Affairs and Social development in the state says is providing counseling services, shelter to trafficked children, and empowering them to prevent them from being re-trafficked.
She said that the ministry conducts needs assessment before facilitating skills acquisition and school enrolment to the returnees.
“ We try to link trafficked children to places where they can acquire skills. At the end of their training we try to give them starter packs and a little stipend.
“This is because if they are not empowered, they may go back to their traffickers, this year we have empowered 15 of them,“ said Ag Director, Child Welfare, Mrs Celina Setlet.
The emphasis on documentation has been identified by stakeholders as critical in addressing child trafficking.
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Plateau have called for government and key stakeholders to ensure IDPs were properly documented.
The chairman of CSOs in the state, Mr Gad Shamaki said that the action would help in mitigating the impact of conflicts, even as he called for on concerted efforts on conflict resolution and prevention.
Similarly, the founder Displaced Women and Children Foundation, Mr Salis Abdulsalam, wants Plateau government to create a special desk responsible for displaced persons in the state.
According to him, this will facilitate collating their data for necessary assistance.
He suggested that the desk should be established in the State Emergency Management Agency.
He also urged NAPTIP to partner relevant CSOs in the state, especially those working at the grassroots, for effective intervention and arrest of traffickers.
As NAPTIP continues its crusade against child trafficking stakeholders say public enlightenment, advocacy and economic empowerment are critical to achieving desired results.