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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Child-trafficking: How And Why They Do It


There is, no doubt, that profits made from human-trafficking are enormous. There have been reports, in many parts of the country, of unusual factories that churn out ‘special human products’ and the abduction of children, who are subsequently trafficked for monetary gains. How are these crimes organised? Who are those behind them and what has been the effort of the relevant agencies charged with halting the trend in recent times? This investigative piece by Head, Special Investigations, Isioma Madike, attempts to unravel these and expose the styles of those perpetrating the act
When the news broke in April 2012, that Ihiala, a village along the Onitsha-Owerri expressway in Anambra State, haboured an unusual factory that churns out special human products, many were shocked in disbelief. But, it turned out to be real. The factory, identified as Spormil Hospital and Maternity home, was registered as Iheanyi Ezuma Foundation. The discovery was strange because babies were produced and sold from that home. The massive complex was always a beehive of activities then, and teenage girls as well as flashy cars were said not to be in short supply around that neighbourhood on a daily basis. Yet, it was difficult to see what goes on in the compound from the outside because of its high walls.

About that same time, too, the police made a similar raid on another ‘baby factory,’ which was registered as Divine Mercy Motherless Babies’ home, in Ibosi, also in Anambra State. Though, the proprietor allegedly escaped, 20 pregnant teenage mothers and eight babies were rescued and evacuated in the home. Not long after that, soldiers burst another home tucked inside the sleepy Ugwaku community in Okigwe, Imo State. The place was said to be a haven for child-tracking activities and situated along the Enugu/ Port Harcourt expressway.
Incidentally, the raids and closures of those dubious maternity homes have not been able to deter others, who venture into this despicable pastime. Instead, as some are being closed, new ones are opening shop in parts of the country. Some of them operate under the guise of rehabilitation centres, orphanages and motherless babies’ homes. But, their owners convert such to avenues for the trafficking of babies. However, Enugu, known for its coal, appears to be the new destination for this group of merchants. One of such spots, according to Sunday Mirror investigation, is St. Anthony’s Maternity Home, located at No. 24 Chukwuani Street in the Coal Camp area of the state.
An impeccable source at the Enugu State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, told our reporter that “the home was registered for the admission of social mothers and abandoned babies. But, what we discovered later was not part of the arrangement. The proprietor takes advantage of innocent girls for business rather than going into charity work which she registered the home for. She lures the young mothers to camp and sometimes subject them to unpaid hard labour while pregnant.”
According to one of the victims, who preferred anonymity, “the pregnant girls are kept and fed miserly until they put to bed.” A resident of the Coal Camp, who did not want his name in print also told Sunday Mirror that “the girls are sometimes seen milling around the centre but when they are leaving, after putting to bed, they leave alone. Their babies are sold and they are paid off. Buyers are always on queue waiting for babies to be delivered.”
It is alleged that the babies are taken from the young mothers and given away for between N50, 000 and N100, 000 and they are paid pittance. It was gathered that while some pregnant girls found their way there, some hired deviant boys and girls are also invited to engage in sexual orgies to make the girls pregnant while the fruits of such exercises are left with the operators of the home. The young mothers come from various places and most of them are secondary school dropouts. They share a common destiny: they all carry unwanted pregnancy. Some married women, too, who get pregnant by accident and want to dispose of their babies, are welcomed in the home. Meanwhile, the married women would turn around to claim that their babies died shortly after delivery.
It was gathered that the proprietor of the maternity home, Mrs Nneka Mortune, who is a lawyer and allegedly parades a police identification card she procured with N25, 000 as part of her antics for cover, has made a fortune from the illicit business. She uses both the proceeds and the police ID card, according to sources, to intimidate the hapless villagers. She is described as an untouchable, who is well connected in high places. It was said that her maternity home was once closed down in 2009, but that her high net worth friends moved in to give her assistance, which enabled her to reopen the home almost immediately. She was supposed to be interrogated for sharp practices and to explain herself the admission of social mothers and placement of abandoned babies without notification to the relevant ministry. But, that was not done.
However, when Sunday Mirror called Mrs. Mortune on the phone to request for an interview on the issue, she demanded that our Enugu correspondent be sent to meet with her in person. Before that demand, she had admitted being the owner of the maternity home but denied knowledge of sharp practices or sale of babies in the home. She said, “Yes, I am the owner of the maternity home but it was never used for what you are mentioning. In any case, because I don’t know you, you can send your Enugu correspondent to meet me one on one. In such arena, I would be more comfortable to tell my side of the story because I am sensing that someone somewhere is out to rubbish me.”
‘Buyers are always waiting for babies to be delivered’
Unfortunately, however, she never made herself available for an interview despite all efforts by our correspondent. Sensing she was only trying to dodge the interview, we forwarded a questionnaire to her to answer and send back online. That did not also work as she never picked her calls thereafter.
Despite the proprietor’s denial, a source in the home told our reporter that “the workers are under a kind of siege in the maternity. People here see no evil and speak no evil because powerful individuals are involved.”
The director, Center for Moral Mentorship, Chima Maureen, also puts a lie to Mrs Mortune’s denial. She told Sunday Mirror in a telephone interview that Mortune had on several times been indicted on the act of human trafficking of various categories. She said such indictments had led to the closure of the maternity home by the zonal officer of NAPTIP on October 27, 2009. “However, she reopened the maternity in 2012 on her own at the absence of the mother who usually play alibi once they are about to execute their mischievous games. This time, it is in the disguise of ear, nose and throat clinic with the fence of the compound raised up higher, which raises suspicion of their modus operandi.
“Another worrying system of their operation is the act of gathering poor widows and mothers from the Catholic Church to a deceitful gathering, thereby taking their photographs for international fraud claiming it is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that cares for the poor. Yet, she could neither provide job nor scholarship for the children of the above mentioned,” Maureen, who had written several petitions on the activities of the maternity home to the police, State Security Services, Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) and Parish Council of St. Patrick’s Coal Camp Church, Enugu, added.
These revelations rattled the CLO, which is hugely worried and disturbed that such magnitude of crimes are committed by a citizen not protected by laws from being investigated and charged. “It is an indictment on the Police and National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP), and we join all men and women of good conscience to condemn this notorious action of the law enforcement agencies. More so, it is absolutely condemnable and we condemn the attitude of the police that awarded its identity card to a civilian to encourage her to commit crimes,” said Ibuchukwu Ezi, CLO Executive Director. When contacted, the estranged husband of Mortune, Okey Mortune, declined comment, saying that he had already instructed his lawyers to commence divorce suit against the woman.
When pressed for comment, Mortune revealed that she had was tired of Nneka’s troubles since 2011. “That was the time she was threatening to annihilate me for telling her the truth. Yes, I instructed my lawyers, Uzoagbara chambers in Enugu here, to petition the commissioner of police, Enugu to safeguard myself. As it is now, I would not want to comment on any issue concerning her,” Mortune said.
Child-trafficking in Nigeria and, indeed, the world over is a lucrative trade. This scourge is aptly described by many as “modern slavery”. It is ranked the third most common crime after financial fraud and drug trafficking. About 10 children are sold every day across the country, according to the United Nations statistics while global traffickers earn an estimated $33 billion yearly. In Nigeria, they are hardly ever caught, and even when they are, they easily buy their way out. It is rampant in the country but prevalent in the eastern part of Nigeria.
The practice of delivering pregnant mothers in these homes takes varying forms. In most cases, desperate teenagers with unplanned pregnancies, fearing ostracism by society, get lured to maternities and are forced to turn over their babies. The girls are intimidated so much that many of them can hardly relate their experience freely. Yet, there is the other type, where married women, who had been unable to bear children, arrange to buy illegally from these homes. This was what played out in July 2011, in Surulere, Lagos. A childless Yoruba lady, who was married for five years and facing family discomforts, was lured by her lady friend into buying a baby from a “factory” in Aba, Abia State. The lady went to Aba, met the owners of the baby market and was asked to pay N2 million for a male child. She was also given some medicines, which enabled her to deceive her husband to think she was pregnant. Towards the time of her supposed delivery, she told her husband she was travelling abroad to have the baby. The husband consented only for her to make a U-turn to Aba where a baby boy had been arranged and handed over to her after paying the full amount.
Last May, the police raided one of the baby markets, at No. 3 Anyamele Street, off No. 10 Nicholas Road, by Brass Junction, also in Aba. The police command had rescued about 32 teenage expectant mothers from the clinic known as The Cross Foundation, where teenage girls were kept until they were delivered of their babies. The babies were sold and their mothers discharged after being paid between N25, 000 and N30, 000, according to the sex of the baby. Another, Double Research Clinic and Laboratory at Iheoji Mgboko in Obingwa LGA, also in Abia State, run by one John Onyemachi, a lab scientist, was raided and 41 ladies rescued by the police through the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Soji Alabi, the Public Relations Officer of the Abia State NSCDC said, such raids have been regular in Abia State. “It helped to unearth the child-trafficking network in the South-East. It is something that has been ongoing over the years. Every community in Abia State is known to have one or so of such ‘baby factories’ as they are called. Teenage girls who get pregnant out of wedlock head there to get rid of their babies. Some of these so-called maternity homes even have agents who go about hunting for young girls to exploit,” Alabi said.
The police in Onitsha, Anambra State, had also smashed a syndicate that specialises in stealing and selling children and arrested the alleged leader and seven other suspects, including a nurse. The leader of the syndicate, according to a police source, acted as an intermediary between the traffickers and the buyers. The source hinted that the traffickers had an operational base in Okigwe, Imo State, from where the child-stealing gang leader came to Onitsha and its environs to steal children after luring them with gifts. “The woman normally steals these children on Saturdays when they are at home after taking advantage of the absence of their parents to carry out her operation, often times she pretends to be a relative. When she observed that no one is watching, she will steal the children and take them to Imo State where they will be sold to unsuspecting couples looking for children to adopt. The police acted on a tip off and swooped on the woman and rescued five children, whose ages range between six months and two years,’’ the source said.
‘Some are sold into modern slavery as prostitutes’
Also in Benue State, the Police apprehended a syndicate that specialises in the abduction and trafficking of underage children between the age brackets of three and 14 years. Police PPRO, Daniel Ezeala, a Deputy Superintendent of Police disclosed this to Sunday Mirror in Makurdi. He said that a Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) had quizzed the suspects, who had abducted over 12 children in two separate vehicles at Otukpa in Ogbadibo Local Government Area. During interrogation, the police discovered that the abducted children who included five girls and seven boys were kidnapped from their homes in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State and were being taken to Benin City for human trafficking purposes, when nemesis caught up with the perpetrators of the act. The PPRO further informed that the suspects confessed to being sponsored by a Benin-based woman, who is said to use the children for onward trafficking abroad.
On Tuesday, June 6, 2012 in Lagos, NAPTIP also burst a major human trafficking syndicate involving a 32-yearold man, Makoju Olawale Fredrick, of Crystal Services. Frederick was involved in a Canadian and Australian migration visa scam running into hundreds of millions of naira and was always in disguise of offering employment and securing visas for unsuspecting Nigerians. He organises foreign travels that promote trafficking and labour exploitation and had defrauded over 8,000 Nigerians in the process. The Executive Secretary /CEO of NAPTIP, Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba, said the suspect was the sole director of the said company, which had been recruiting people into the scam since 2010, investigations revealed.
According to the NAPTIP boss, that the suspect collected N1, 000 (one thousand naira only) from each applicant as application fee and N50, 700 (fifty thousand, seven hundred naira) as medical examination fee. He collected their passports and made each applicant swear to an affidavit to pay double the amount of money he would spend for their travel to Canada. He also made them obtain a police report on character and claimed that the trip of each person would cost him N750, 000 and that on arrival in Canada all the travel documents would remain with him until they were able to pay N1.5 million each. She said that NAPTIP operatives recovered eight big properly sealed cartons containing over 8,000 Nigerian International passports and other documents. “The passports which contained Canadian visas and calculations showed that the scammer had swindled unsuspecting Nigerians of over N560 million (five hundred and sixty million naira) in the visa scam.
‘Most trafficked victims are lured by false promises’
It was equally a harvest of criminals at the Niger State Police Command as the command arrested a human trafficking syndicate headed by a lady who claimed to be a staff nurse in one of the government hospitals. She had an accomplice and they had both sold a set of twins and an eight-month-old baby for N500, 000 to one of their clients. The state’s Police Commissioner, Mrs Desire Diseye Nsirim, said that the human trafficking syndicate was being operated by one Martina Ohakwe, a 40-year-old female staff nurse with the General hospital, Kubwa, a satellite town in Abuja. Kingsley Linus, a member of the syndicate, was said to be in the habit of usually travelling to states in the eastern part of the country where he allegedly lured unsuspecting young mothers and their little babies to Abuja, with promises of gainful employment. The suspect was said to have deceived a 20-year-old Oluchi Agachi and her eightmonth- old baby from Enugu to Abuja with a promise of providing her a job, but her baby was later collected from her and sold to Martina for N100,000.
Linus was also alleged by the Police to have lured Ngozi Nwani, a 22-year-old and her twins, aged seven months, from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State to Abuja. Martina sold one of the twin baby girls to one Joy Opara, a 46-year-old resident of Abaji Local Government Area, an outskirt of Abuja, for N400, 000. But, Linus denied the allegation, saying instead, “I brought them to the woman (Martina) so that they could be assisted. They begged me to give the babies to someone that could help take care of them and who will also pay them some money so that they can start doing something with their lives. Martina promised to take care of the children and assured that they would not be harmed or be allowed to be given to people who are in the habit of using human beings for ritual purposes.”
Apart from the babies’ sale, other despicable trafficking is also thriving; these are those who are sold into modern slavery as either house helps or prostitutes. There seems to be no end to the humiliating act of human trafficking in the country. It is even more unfortunate that some of the victims, especially young ladies, are trafficked to smaller West African countries. Only recently, the Nigerian Ambassador to Mali, Iliya Nuhu, had cause to lament that the problem of human trafficking had grown in magnitude and sophistication to the extent that a good number of Nigerians in his country of posting seemed to be thriving on it. He described the development as akin to modern day slavery with some unscrupulous Nigerians now recruiting from their villages and towns young girls between the ages of 10 and 15, which are then sold into lives of misery. According to the ambassador, about 20 to 30 girls are trafficked to Mali daily, with the promise of securing for them good jobs, only to turn them to prostitutes.
Incidentally, human trafficking manifests its severity in different dimensions and cuts across generations, races, cultures and religion. It has many elements, which include recruitment, transportation, transfer, habouring and receipt of persons. Strategies adopted include threats, use of force, coercion, abduction, deception, vulnerability and payments or benefits. The purpose is for exploitation in forms of prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, removal of organs, and child abuse. The recruitment process is very deceitful as the traffickers do not indicate to the victims the reality of their intention. Most of them are lured by false promises while others are escorted by relatives. There are also those who are trapped out of sheer greed knowing full well the implications of their actions.
In spite of NAPTIP and other stakeholders’ battle against the scourge within the shores of Nigeria, several unwary victims are languishing in other African countries, notably in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal as well as Europe and the Americas. There have been horrendous reports from numerous sources including the media and Nigerians in the Diaspora on the activities of these crime syndicates, which specialise in trafficking unsuspecting Nigerians out of the country. In many cases, thousands of them had been deceived and transported for sex slavery. Further investigations revealed that these victims’ passports and phones are confiscated by the madams so that they invariably lost touch with their contacts back home. Those that tried to escape would not because they are often stripped of all their finances and put under a kind of debt bondage.
There are those who are held in severe exploitative and inhuman conditions, doing menial jobs and made to work as slaves; they are sold for about N2 million and resold many times over. People promise them a lot of things and when they get to those other countries, it becomes a different story. In fact, there was a story of a girl that was locked up in a room and made to service her clients, after which the proceeds from her prostitution was kept away from her. But sadly, there are families who encourage it because they believe that proceeds will come from it. With the help of Malian authorities, NAPTIP was able to evacuate about 104 victims rescued in that country in 2011. There are chilling statistics, which suggest that human trafficking has become one of the biggest money-making businesses after drug trafficking today. It is, therefore, rather shameful that Nigeria is regarded not only as a transit route for this illegal trade but also a source as well as a destination with children and young adults, especially of the womenfolk, now becoming merchandise for what has become a cross-border crime.
This, perhaps, may have led the Federal Government in 2003 to enact the Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act. It was amended in 2005 to prescribe more severe penalties for offenders as well as prohibits all forms of human trafficking. Despite that, human trafficking remains a major challenge in the country while the nondomestication of the Child Rights Act by many states has only compounded the problem. In what is clearly an organised crime involving international syndicates, human traffickers also move their victims to Europe through North Africa by caravan. They most often force their victims to cross the desert on foot. Many die in the process even as the survivors are subjected to all forms of indignity; in the bid to repay the heavy debts owed their “benefactors” by way of travel expenses. But the trade is thriving because most of the people involved wield powerful influence with which they circumvent the law.

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