By Hannatu Musawa — While political activities are in full swing and the main features and front pages of media outlets across the country, the salient issues of rape and child trafficking have remained unnoticed until a recent scathing report that has beamed a searchlight on the issue. The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (icirnigeria.org), which reports on the alarming and increasing rape cases and trafficking of under-aged persons in IDP camps in the country and the culpability of government agencies, entitles its story, “ Grim tales of rape, child trafficking in displaced persons camp”.
The ongoing insurgency in the northern part of the country and the government’s attempts to suppress it have thus far produced a tide of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Some international organizations have estimated that over 350, 000 people have been displaced since 2013. Of that number, 290,000 are internally displaced and the rest have fled to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has a higher estimate of internally displaced persons, at 470,000. Locally, our officials have recorded dramatically higher rates than these estimates. In Bauchi, for instance, it is said that IDPs number more than half a million. These IDPs come from the ethnic conflict in Plateau State as well as from further north where the insurgency is active. As at January this year, the official figures of IDPs in Nigeria according to the DG of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was 981,416. According to the report, many aid workers in the IDP camps allege that there is a conspiracy of silence, which encourages government officials in many of the IDP camps to continue to exploit the displaced persons. The report states that NEMA officials, the police and state government officials are behind the child-trafficking racket in IDP camps. Since the same officials that these cases should be reported to are the perpetrators, many victims just keep quiet for fear of being sent out of the camp.
Now, this is an issue that is dear to my heart and always drives me bonkers whenever I learn about rape cases and trafficking of children and women. To make matters worse, these IDPs are being abused by government officials who are meant to protect and cater for their needs. These camps are not just managed by the federal government but they are also managed by state governments. If the allegations in the report are true, then what’s the reason for establishing such camps? It has also been reported that children and women are being sold for between N20,000 and N50,000 and one in every five women has been raped. This is downright disheartening!
People who have been forced to abandon their dwellings, income and way of life due to the threat of an apparent evil are being confronted with another evil at the IDP camps where they are meant to find solace. While the government has instituted a fact-finding committee to look into the allegations of child trafficking and rape cases, what is going to happen to the victims of rape, the children that have already been trafficked and the perpetuators of these crimes against humanity?
In this part of the world, rape is very rarely reported, due to the extreme social stigma cast on the victims or the fear of being disowned by their families or subjected to violence. Rape is very common among internally displaced women worldwide, and it is reported that two in five of these women were being raped.
Taking advantage of, and inflicting pain on, people who are meant to be catered for is callous and inhuman. Women who have been raped can be severely traumatized and may suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. In addition to psychological harm resulting from the act, rape may cause physical injury or have additional effects on the victim, such as acquiring of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or becoming pregnant. A victim may face violence or threats thereof from the rapist and, in some cultures, from the victim’s own family and relatives.
With regards to child trafficking, the growing exploitation of children, particularly in our clime, is a horrifying fact. The abuse and trafficking of children have severe consequences both at individual and community level, undermining the personal development of the child. Child trafficking involves the recruitment, movement and then exploitation of these kids as forced labourers or sex slaves. In Nigeria, children are trafficked for sexual abuse, benefit fraud, forced marriages, domestic servitude, and criminal activities. These children are taken from Nigeria to other countries, primarily Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Benin and the Gambia.
While there are laws against such crimes, not enough is being done to bring the perpetrators to book. The 2003 Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act, amended in 2005 to increase penalties for trafficking offenders, prohibits all forms of human trafficking. The law prescribes penalties of five years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking of children for forced begging or hawking, and 10 years to life imprisonment for sex trafficking. The 2003 Child Right Act also criminalizes child trafficking, though only 23 of the 36 states and the FCT have enacted it. The main reason rape cases are hardly reported to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria is that people,
especially victims of rape, have lost faith in the judiciary which is supposedly the last hope of the common man. Rapists walk the street free, while victims remain traumatized for life with family members in perpetual pain and agony, reputational stigmatization and reclusion from society. Since nothing seems to be done about the spate of rape in our society, this inaction inadvertently allows for other rape cases to go on.
In light of this report and these allegations, it is high time government strengthened security around all registered IDP camps within the country. Enlightenment campaigns also need to be carried out for
care-givers in the camps, informing them on how they can detect a rape victim or identify child traffickers. We as a people must also continue to mount constant pressure on the government to revise and re-amend the existing anti-rape and trafficking laws and their penalties, which should give proper justice to victims of rape and trafficking.
Furthermore, forensic forms of evidence, such as DNA analysis and rape kits should be made available to supplement the already existing medical evidences in bringing perpetuators to book. Rapes victims
should additionally be bold enough to report incidences, and should cooperate with the appropriate authorities so as to make sure their rapists are put behind bars permanently.
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