Nigeria government 'detaining' trafficking survivors - HRW report

Rights activists protest child abuse, trafficking, violence and other forms of human degradation to mark the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Vices. (Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP)
Rights activists protest child abuse, trafficking, violence and other forms of human degradation to mark the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Vices. (Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP)

Despite attempts by the Nigerian government to combat human trafficking and provide support for those that survived being trafficked, care for victims is still severely lacking, a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

According to the report, the Nigerian government is illegally detaining survivors of human trafficking, prohibiting the often traumatised women from recovering from the experiences they went through.

"The Nigerian authorities are actually detaining trafficking survivors in shelters, not allowing them to leave at will, in violation of Nigeria's international legal obligations," the New York-based rights body said.

"The detentions overwhelmingly affect women and girls, and put their recovery and well-being at risk."

The report is based on interviews with 76 survivors, 20 of them girls between the ages 8 and 17, who either were trafficked out of Nigeria and later returned, or were trafficked into Nigeria. 

They were often promised well-paying jobs as domestic workers, hairdressers, or hotel staff but were then tricked and trapped in exploitation and forced to pay back a huge "debt" for their travel. Often, the people who trafficked them were people they knew personally.

"My aunt brought me here. She said she will help me. When I got here, she said I had to work before the apprenticeship," one of the survivors told HRW.

"She took me somewhere to work as a house girl…. I was mistreated. She did not give me food; I washed cars, cleaned the house and the compound," the 14-year-old, who is one of several victims quoted in the report, said.

"My aunt used to collect the money. Their kids were too hostile to me. I decided to leave."

'Closed shelters'

Over the last couple of years, the Nigerian government has introduced several anti-trafficking laws and started the the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), which runs shelters for trafficking survivors.

However, those shelters are severely lacking, HRW said. 

"Some survivors in the NAPTIP shelters complained about not being able to receive visitors or contact their families, not having clear information about when they would reunite with their families, monotonous daily schedules, or boredom from doing nothing," the report states.

"Those referred by NAPTIP to private shelters were unhappy about poor conditions and services, including inadequate food, lack of soap or body lotion, lack of medical and psycho-social care, and lack of job training," it added.

Despite attempts by the Nigerian government to help them reintegrate, the so-called "closed shelters" do not provide enough support for the women to reintegrate into Nigerian society, HRW said.

"Women and girls trafficked in and outside Nigeria have suffered unspeakable abuses at the hands of traffickers, but have received inadequate medical, counseling, and financial support to reintegrate into society" senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch Agnes Odhiambo said.

"We were shocked to find traumatised survivors locked behind gates, unable to communicate with their families, for months on end, in government-run facilities."

HRW has called on Nigeria to better listen to the experiences of survivors and offer more room for community services, health workers and other organisations to play in a role in the recovery of the women.

"Nigerian authorities are struggling with a crisis of trafficking, and working under challenging circumstances, but they can do a better job by listening to what survivors have to say about their own needs," Odhiambo said.

"To end trafficking and break cycles of exploitation and suffering, survivors need the government to help them heal from the trauma of trafficking and earn a decent living in Nigeria."

GET THE NEWS at your fingertips and download the News24 app for Android here now. Get it for your iPhone here.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
When planning for the Black Friday sales do you:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Save, research and plan ahead, preparing to make the most of it?
8% - 957 votes
Wait and see what looks like a good deal on the day?
14% - 1807 votes
Have no interest in spending more money this year?
78% - 9954 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo