Human trafficking in West Africa: three out of four victims are children says UNODC report

Abuja, 5 February 2021 – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) jointly with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) today presented the key findings of UNODC Fifth Global Report on Trafficking in Persons to stakeholders from the Government of Nigeria, civil society organizations and international partners. The report shows that children represent more than 75% of trafficking victims detected in West Africa.

The report covers 148 countries and more than 95 per cent of the world’s population, using primarily official statistics on trafficking cases between 2016 and 2019. Countries in West Africa tend to detect more victims than other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly children and for the purpose of forced labour. Out of 4799 victims detected in 26 Sub-Saharan Africa countries, 3336 were in West Africa including 2553 children. UNODC data suggests that close to 80% of victims in West Africa were trafficked for forced labour, which remains the major form of exploitation in the region.

“Trafficking in persons is one of the most lucrative criminal markets globally. Nigeria is an origin, transit and destination country and is affected by both domestic and cross-border trafficking. A collaborative approach is crucial in tackling this crime and NAPTIP has made efforts to ensure trafficking cases are being investigated in close collaboration with other law enforcement agencies,” said Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, NAPTIP Director-General.

On behalf of Sadiya Umar Farouq, Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Chief of Staff Edima Otuokon welcomed the report as it “will provide valuable insight to all stakeholders and actors as we continue to face unprecedented challenges as a result of trafficking in persons.” She added that “the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development will continue to place emphasis on successes of ongoing programmes and partnerships to ensure the fight against trafficking in persons is sustainable.”

The majority of victims in West Africa are trafficked within their own countries or across the border from neighbouring countries. In spite of an increasing number of Sub-Saharan Africa countries introducing a specific offense against trafficking in persons in line with the United Nations definition (38 in 2020 compared to 2 in 2003), the conviction rate in the region remains lower than in other parts of the world.

For the first time, the report provides an in-depth analysis on the level of involvement of organized criminal groups in trafficking of persons. The report found that when such groups are involved, many more victims are trafficked, often for longer periods, across wider distances and with more violence.

“Statistical data on the involvement of organized criminal groups suggest that we have to adjust investigative tactics from seeking to catch and convict individual low-level traffickers, recruiters and exploiters to fully understanding the extent and ramifications of the networks and dismantle them through multi-country joint or mirror investigations” said Dr. Oliver Stolpe, UNODC Representative to Nigeria.

Traffickers usually target vulnerable people and those in difficult circumstances. In more than half of 233 court cases UNODC analyzed worldwide, traffickers took advantage of the economic need of the victim. The economic recession resulting from the COVID-19 will increase the number of people in difficult economic situation, thus increasing the risk of being trafficked.

Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reiterated that “combatting trafficking in person is one of the critical priorities of the ECOWAS Commission and its Member States. It is fundamental for victims to be identified and assisted with a view to rehabilitate them by restoring their dignity and reintegrating them socially and economically.”