It is sad that Nigeria’s children have become a transportable commodity.
The discovery in Lokoja, Kogi State, of over 100 children aged between three and 16 years of age, being conveyed to various towns in south-western Nigeria is a disturbing indication that the child-trafficking phenomenon is alive and well in Nigeria.
The children were among the 200 people packed like cattle into several trucks which were detained by members of the state’s Joint Task Force (JTF). When they were questioned, many of them were unable to give tenable explanations for their journey. Some said they were looking for work; others said they were on vacation or seeking to further their education. Some of the drivers of the trucks claimed to have picked up their passengers at motor parks and had reached agreement on payment at their destination. Most of the children are from communities in Benue, Cross River and Kogi states.
It is obvious that the circumstances in which these people were travelling are suspicious. It is difficult to understand why passengers from diverse parts of the country were apprehended in a state that was nowhere near their stated destinations. The fact that many of the children were unaccompanied minors is also cause for great concern. Even more worrying is the ease with which those in charge of the journey were able to gather together so many people without attracting official notice, or even suspicion in the communities they hail from.
Nigeria has already gained some notoriety in the West African sub-region for the human trafficking phenomenon. Its citizens have been apprehended in countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and even Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the offence. In the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy, Nigerians are regularly involved in human trafficking cases.
The highly profitable nature of the trade is a major reason why it is so persistent. On a global level, people trafficking is believed to be even more profitable than drug-smuggling. It is tied in to other criminal activities such as drugs, prostitution and the illegal sale of human organs. In Nigeria, the trade often involves taking youths to areas where farm workers are needed, but the trafficking of young girls for prostitution in the nation’s larger cities is also well-known.
The high number of children in the Kogi convoy points to a worrying decline in the quality of parenting being offered Nigerian children. While it is true it is not uncommon for parents to send their children to friends and relations for education or training, the practice of entrusting children to total strangers who are free to take them anywhere is clearly a failure on the part of those who are supposed to care for them.
It appears that parents are increasingly leaving their children to fend for themselves. A child who is being properly cared for is unlikely to be in a situation where he can jump into a vehicle with strangers to be taken to towns hundreds of miles away from his home. It amounts to a clear abdication of parental responsibility for any parent to allow his three-year old to be put in a bus by people unrelated to him. Even if some of the older children were truly seeking vacation jobs, it is still unusual that they did not look for employment closer to their homes.
The child welfare units of the local government areas from which these children were taken also have a case to answer. The fact that the bulk of the children came from particular communities is an indication that it had become the norm. In an age of widespread kidnapping, ritual murder and heightened insecurity, it is unbelievable that no official attention was paid to the wholesale disappearance of children in specific communities.
Nigeria must begin to make serious efforts to ensure the safety of its most vulnerable citizens if it is to realise its laudable dreams of social, economic and political development.
– The Nation