Orphaned at the age of 12, Grace was sent to work in a Nigerian household as a servant. Her duties were demanding. She was not paid, she could not attend school and was abused by her employer. After working for the family for a few years her employer told her that she was moving to London and that Grace would follow. Grace was uncertain but had no means to leave or to disobey. When she arrived in the UK the abuse and exploitation got worse. She was not allowed to leave the house, was expected to work through the day and night and slept on the floor. The wages she were promised never materialised.
Grace was one of the people who took part in a research study published today that the UK-based organisations IPPR and Eaves, and the Nigerian organisation dRPC carried out with people who had been trafficked from Nigeria to the UK. Human trafficking from Nigeria is of major concern to the UK government. Despite tight restrictions on travel between the two countries, UK agencies estimate that people from Nigeria are the largest national group of victims of trafficking in the UK. Unsurprisingly, our research found that human trafficking is also of significant concern to people in Nigeria. A survey of the Nigerian population found that 85% of people (urban and rural) felt that addressing trafficking in persons should be a priority for the Nigerian government.
There have been significant efforts to attempt to tackle this issue. Nigeria has its own dedicated agency (NAPTIP), many dedicated NGOs and support from high-profile individuals. International agencies have also engaged with this issue. There have been a multitude of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns to warn migrants of the dangers of trafficking. The UK has also stepped up its work to prevent irregular migration and train its border staff to identify potential victims of trafficking as they attempt to cross the border.
There have been many examples of good practice. However this research shows that current responses sometimes miss out important issues. Awareness campaigns keep the issue in the headlines and tough border controls make migration out of Nigeria more difficult, but to tackle trafficking, agencies need to respond in other ways.
Our interviews found that one of the most important issues for anti-trafficking policy to address is the gaps in support that make children vulnerable. 70% of our sample grew up in a household that was not their immediate family – often working as a domestic servant. An important finding of our research was the strong link between international trafficking (between Nigeria and Europe) and internal trafficking within Nigeria. Many interviewees had already experienced trafficking and abuse before arriving in the UK: more than a quarter of interviewees (28%) appeared to have been internally trafficked within Nigeria as children.
UNICEF estimates that there are 15 million child workers in Nigeria. Many are domestic workers – living with employers they have no familial relationships and are employed through middlemen. Away from family support and unable to access education, these children have limited protection from traffickers looking to exploit them in Europe. As our interview with Grace shows, often the people that traffic and exploit people in Europe are the same people that traffic and exploit people in Nigeria.
Nigeria needs to ensure that children’s rights are upheld, rules on child labour are enforced and access to universal education prioritised. Government agencies and international organisations should look beyond simply trying to prevent migration and support NGOs and others who are doing effective work to protect children from trafficking.
European countries must also play their part. This means addressing demand for trafficking at home and working in partnership with Nigerian agencies. Encouragingly, the UK Government has said that it is committed to working in partnership with countries of origin for trafficked people. UK development agencies are already active in Nigeria and working on issues that are important to an effective trafficking response. Only last month UKAid and the British Council published a report on the importance of raising the opportunities of women and girls in Nigeria. Yet there little link up between this work and the UK’s anti-trafficking efforts to date.
Grace’s story shows us the importance of listening to people who have experienced trafficking and responding to the underlying factors which drive trafficking. The UK and Nigeria need to take the opportunities they have to join up their work in this area and to ensure that their anti-trafficking efforts are effective.
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