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In a letter written to The ICIR and received on Thursday, the agency confirmed that it has observed a migration pattern of children from the Benin Republic to border-states in South-Western Nigeria who are then exploited.
NAPTIP was responding to enquiries sent to it in connection to an investigative report published by the Centre in October. The report threw light on the criminal practice of trafficking children between the two West African countries and how both poor economic conditions in Benin and complicity of local security operatives are enabling the trend.
“NAPTIP is quite aware about this practice of under-aged children being brought into the country from the neighbouring country of Benin Republic for forced labour,” the agency said in its letter, signed by the Director of Research and Programme Development, Godwin Morka.
“In fact, the partnership between Nigeria and Benin was necessitated by the steady increase in the movement of children across our common borders, especially Beninese children trafficked to the stone quarries in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, and most of them employed as domestic servants in some homes,” it added.
“These children are subjected to the most despicable conditions inimical to their normal developmental process as children.”
Many of the actions NAPTIP said it has taken to address the deplorable trend are, however, not recent or stated in general terms.
First, it said, “an MOU was signed between Nigeria and Benin Republic in 2005 and subsequently [there was a] signing of an agreement with an international implementing partner, Terres des Hommes (TDH).”
The Memorandum of Understanding paved the way for the setting up of a joint technical committee and drafting of plans of action to tackle trafficking in persons along the route.
“The current joint plan of action was adopted in February 2010 with the aim of further deepening efforts in the areas of law enforcement and linkages amongst civil organisations in both countries in order to ensure effective and sustainable intervention efforts,” NAPTIP said.
“Nigeria hosted the 9th joint meeting in 2012 at Abeokuta, Ogun State, to assess both countries’ level of implementation of the 2010 Nigeria/Benin Joint Plan of Action, identify gaps and proffer solutions and to review the effectiveness of the 2010 Plan of Action in addressing specific trafficking in persons issues between both countries and to produce the 2012 Plan of Action.”
It said its collaboration with multinational groups has resulted in the reduction of children taken to stone quarries as well as “better border policing through training of immigration personnel”.
According to the agency, other actions it has taken include a joint operation sponsored by INTERPOL at Seme Border, sensitisation of the residence of the border towns on the ills of human trafficking and the need to report suspected actors, the rescue of victims, and arrest and prosecution of suspects.
The ICIR also asked how Nigeria is implementing the ECOWAS Strategic Framework for Child Protection and the bilateral “Cooperation Agreement to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons” signed with Benin in 2005.
In its response, the agency only referred to a Five-Day National Step Down Workshop on the Guidelines for the Implementation of the Strategic Framework held between June 17 and 21, 2019 in Abuja. The workshop was convened by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and funded by the European Union (EU).
NAPTIP urged civil society organisations, media groups, and community associations to work with it “in the prevention and fight against trafficking at the level of the West African countries in order to achieve better results”.
They can do this, it added, by reporting cases of forced labour to it or participating in its stakeholders’ meetings.