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Human trafficking and the African condition



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By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya


On Tuesday, 14th March, 2017, CNN observed the #MyFreedomDay campaign which was a global outreach to remind the world about the threats human trafficking or Modern Slavery presents to our continued freedom and collective existence on the planet – Earth. The day was set aside to remind everyone of us about the dangers and damages caused by Human Trafficking and forced labour the world over. According to Freedom United (a global NGO that deals with trans-border human trafficking and slavery), an estimated 45.8 million people are currently in slavery worldwide. In every country around the world, people are exploited against their will, controlled by threats, debt, and violence and so on. We may call it by many names, but it amounts to the same thing: Modern Slavery. It is illegal everywhere, but it continues to thrive because so many of us do not understand it, do not want to think about it or/and do not know how to change it.

Regrettably, Slavery and other forms of forced labour continues to thrive in every nook and cranny of the world partly because of the unchecked spate of human trafficking and its related forms. In a previous article on a similar topic titled; Slave Trade in Africa: Pains of the Past, Nightmares of the Present (, the relationship between Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery was extensively buttressed. This write-up is an updated version.

What is Human Trafficking?

According to, Human trafficking can be referred to as the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage or the extraction of organs or tissues, including for surrogacy and oval removal. Human trafficking can occur within a country or trans-nationally. Wikipedia further explained that human trafficking is a crime against the person because of the violation of the victim’s rights usually through coercion and because of their commercial exploitation. It is a trade in people, and does not necessarily involve the movement of the person from one place to another.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), forced labour (a component of human trafficking) generates an estimated 150 billion USD in profits annually as of 2014. In 2012, the ILO estimated that 21 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 14.2 million (68%) were exploited for labour, 4.5 million (22%) were sexually exploited and 2.2 million (10%) were exploited in state-imposed forced laboUr. It is believed to be one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations. (Source:

Human Trafficking & Other Forms Of Human Rights Violations

People Smuggling – Human trafficking differs from people smuggling, which involves a person voluntarily requesting or hiring another individual to covertly transport them across an international border, usually because the smuggled person would be denied entry into a country by legal channels. Though illegal, there may be no deception or coercion involved. According to the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), people smuggling is a violation of national immigration laws of the destination country, and does not require violations of the rights of the smuggled person. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is a crime against a person because of the violation of the victim’s rights through coercion and exploitation.

Prostitution – Prostitution is known as the practice of exchanging sexual activity for payment. This differs directly from Human Trafficking because with prostitution, the person getting paid is the person participating in these sexual activities. Human Trafficking is when one person forces another person to perform sexual acts with someone else for their own personal gain; it is the forced exploitation of another person. In most cases, the victims never receive any kind of payment or freedom.

Bonded Labour or Debt Bondage – It is probably the least known form of labour trafficking today, and yet it is the most widely used method of enslaving people. Victims become “bonded” when their labour, the labour they themselves hired and the tangible goods they bought are demanded as a means of repayment for a loan or service in which its terms and conditions have not been defined or in which the value of the victims’ services is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt. Generally, the value of their work is greater than the original sum of money “borrowed.”

Forced Labour – It is a situation in which victims are forced to work against their own will under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment; their freedom is restricted and a degree of ownership is exerted. Men are at risk of being trafficked for unskilled work, which globally generates 31 billion USD according to the International Labor Organization. Forms of forced labour can include domestic servitude, agricultural labour, sweatshop factory labour, janitorial, food service and other service industry labour, and begging.

Child Labour – It is a form of work that may be hazardous to the physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development of children and can interfere with their education. According to the International Labor Organization, the global number of children involved in child labour has fallen during the past decade – it has declined by one third, from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million children in 2012. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest incidence of child labour whereas, the largest numbers of child-workers are found in Asia and the Pacific. My article titled; Child Marriage is Child Labour: Change Begin with Me provides an insight to the causes and effects of Child Labour.

The United Nations Efforts & Achievements

One of the International organizations taking the most active part in the anti-trafficking is the United Nations. It is leading the global fight against Human Trafficking through its arms – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), which are specifically dedicated for the cause and it has achieved commendable success; they would be discussed under two broad headings in subsequent paragraphs.

Awareness – The UNODC has assisted many Non-Governmental Organizations in the fight against Human Trafficking through public awareness. Instances abound, the 2006 armed conflict in Lebanon, which saw 300,000 domestic workers from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines jobless and targets of traffickers, led to an emergency information campaign with NGO Caritas Migrant to raise Human Trafficking awareness.

Similarly, Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, a report published in April, 2006 by the UNODC helped to identify 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries for Human Trafficking. To date, it is the second most frequently downloaded UNODC report. Continuing into 2007, UNODC supported initiatives like the Community Vigilance project along the border between India and Nepal, as well as provided subsidy for NGO trafficking prevention campaigns in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Croatia.

Public service announcements have also proved useful for organizations combating Human Trafficking. In addition to many other endeavors, UNODC works to broadcast these announcements on local television and radio stations across the world. By providing regular access to information regarding Human Trafficking, individuals are educated on how to protect themselves and their families from being exploited.

Research – The UN.GIFT was conceived to promote the global fight on Human Trafficking, on the basis of international agreements reached at the UN. UN.GIFT was launched in March, 2007 by UNODC. Within UN.GIFT, UNODC launched a research exercise to gather primary data on national responses to trafficking in persons worldwide. This exercise resulted in the publication of the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons in February 2009. The report gathers official information for 155 countries and territories in the areas of legal and institutional framework, criminal justice response and victim assistance services. UN.GIFT works with all stakeholders — governments, business, academia, civil society and the media — to support each other’s work, create new partnerships and develop effective tools to fight Human Trafficking.

The Call to Action

In 2007, the United States Senate designated 11th January as a National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in an effort to raise consciousness about this global, national and local issue. From 2010 to 2013, Former U.S. President, Barack Obama proclaimed the month of January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Obviously, Human Trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with successfully by any government alone. This global problem requires a global, multi-stakeholder strategy that builds on national efforts throughout the world. To pave the way for this strategy, we must coordinate efforts, increase knowledge and awareness, provide technical assistance, promote effective rights-based responses, build capacity of state and non-state stakeholders, foster partnerships for joint action, and above all, ensure that everybody takes responsibility for this fight.

We need to contribute our individual efforts and complement existing actions to ensure that our brothers and sisters are not exploited because of any vulnerability caused by the current situations which in most cases they have little or no control over. For the world to be a better place, Human Trafficking and other forms of trans-border organized crimes and Human Rights violations need to be seriously defeated because a world where one is not safe, all is not safe.





Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya, an avid public commentator is also  is a relationship officer at Sterling Bank Plc, Lagos


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