Tag Archives human trafficking

Border communities in Nigeria continue to remain unsafe: Are border security forces to blame?

Imeko border town remains a significant border area in Nigeria, due to the sizeable economic activity that is carried out there, which contributes to the country’s revenue base. However, despite the economic benefit that the border area provides Nigerian states, it remains marginalised and in a state of heightened insecurity. This article argues that the large presence of various Nigerian security forces, has in no way, ameliorated the security situation in the border area. However, this anomaly can be addressed if proper monitoring of the border area is carried out by relevant authorities. 

Marginalisation of border communities in Nigeria: the case of Imeko

Globally, border communities have a long history of marginalisation. These are communities situated on the edge of formal states. Inhabitants of these communities continue to remain the victims of various forms of criminality that occur at the borders, mostly because of a lack of police presence or failure of the security personnel posted to such locations to perform their duties. In Nigeria, border communities have faced various forms of marginalisation, which results mainly from the lack of basic infrastructure like schools, hospitals, health care facilities, potable water and, importantly, protection. Border regions in Nigeria are notoriously dangerous due to cross-border criminalities ranging from smuggling and trafficking activities to the presence of terrorist organisation i.e. the Boko Haram mainly found in the North-Eastern region of the country.

A case in point is the border town of Imeko in Nigeria. Imeko is a traditionally recognisable Yoruba town densely populated  in southwest Nigeria, close to the country’s border with Benin. Most of its inhabitants are farmers, hunters, and traders who take part in predominantly informal cross-border trade (ICBT) activities, otherwise viewed by the government as smuggling, which hence serves as a justification for the deployment, by the government, of a Special Force, known as the Joint Border Patrol, at the border town to curtail such activities.

When I visited Imeko in April 2021 and interviewed inhabitants for my study on the perpetual marginalisation of Imeko border town, it became evident that this border area has been challenged in many ways, ranging from a lack of basic infrastructure to failure to protect the citizens of the border communities. Aside from the fact that they are neglected by the government, there are instances where projects are being approved in the community’s name at the national level, without the community leadership even being informed. As revealed by a local, who was also my guide, the majority of the few schools in the town were built by the community itself before the government took over their management. Yet, these schools are not in good shape, and are short-staffed. An example is the Nazareth High School, where the current Oba[1] of Imeko taught before he became a traditional ruler.

The double burden of marginalisation and violence in Imeko

However, what is perhaps most concerning is how insecure the border area is. Given that Imeko is foremost an agrarian community, the presence of nomadic or semi-nomadic Fulani[2] herdsmen, who roam the region with their cattle, has been a curse according to farmers I interviewed, who claimed that the cattle had destroyed their farmland. Complaints from the people to the security forces stationed in the community about this, and other issues, have fallen on deaf ears, even after the traditional ruler’s interventions. In fact, there have been accounts of complainants being arrested by police officers instead, on the grounds that they are not being accommodating of the Fulani herdsmen, and have also been made to pay for their release from police custody.

While the traditional ruler plays an important role in ensuring that the community mobilises its local resources and strategies to address issues facing the community, the constant state of insecurity puts a strain on the limited resources, given the failure of the police and other security forces, deployed in the border town,  to ensure the security of life and property, and  the prevention of various forms of cross-border criminalities. For example, Figure 1 and 2 below, show burnt vehicles and motorcycles, often used by the local guards when on a search mission for kidnapped persons in the forest.

Figure 1: Motorcycles burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021(Imeko Town)

Figure 2: Cars burnt by their attackers

Source: My Guide, April 12, 2021 (Imeko Town)

Without sufficient protection from the police and other security forces in the area, these acts of violence are likely to continue. It is also worth noting that such violence continues even though this border area is heavily securitised by the government due to cross-border activities that are carried out along the borders such as importation, smuggling, and human trafficking. In fact, at the time of my visit, there were more than fifty checkpoints manned by heavily armed security officers along the stretch of road between Kara (an area known for cattle market in Abeokuta), some 90 kilometres away from Imeko border town. This further confirms the assertion by various researchers of the entrenchment of the border guards and security personnel in the potent mix of poverty and corruption that plagues the border areas.

Are border security forces to blame?

Thus, this also raises the question about the role of the security forces towards addressing the issue of kidnappings of innocent civilians in the border area. Can their presence make a difference? Or are they complicit in the kidnappings? On various occasions, community members, traders, and skilled workers have been kidnapped. While some were released after paying huge sums as ransom, others were found dead.

Based on the interviews I conducted, I concluded that despite the presence of security forces, they are not likely to make a difference, as they are only focused on cross-border activities, while completely neglecting the problems that face communities in the border region. One would assume that the presence of the police and other security forces on the long stretch of road, and in the border town, should have brought some level of safety to the people, however, the opposite has been the case, as the border communities see the deployment of the security forces as part of the problem. Instead of protecting them, the security forces are perceived as aiding and engaging in smuggling activities themselves. According to some locals, while the locals who go to buy items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oil for personal consumption across the border are stopped by security operatives and their items are confiscated, smugglers are known to offer and pay bribe to the same security forces, sometimes right in the presence of the locals, and are then allowed to drive off with impunity.

Moreover, most robbery and kidnappings happen on the road which is manned by heavily armed security operatives. According to one kidnapping victim, who had been kidnapped in 2019, he was not only dispossessed of huge sum of money which he went to withdraw in Abeokuta, but he was also a witness to women being sexually assaulted, by those he identified as Fulani herdsmen. Therefore, the people in the border communities feel that if this has been happening over the years, and it has not been addressed, then the presence of the security forces manning various check points on the road is futile.  During my time in Imeko, I also observed that as you move into the border town, immigration officers who check foreigners, mostly Fulani, were willing to take bribes from those who did not have any official identification. Even at the checkpoints for items such as rice, cereals, and vegetable oils, officers demanded bribes from the drivers and traders, and if they were unable to pay the bribe, their items were confiscated.

The way forward: what can be done?

The role of security agencies in border communities, therefore, cannot be overstated. As it stands, the communities have lost hope in the ability of the police and security forces deployed in their communities to secure life and property as they are perceived to only come in and engage in activities for personal gains. It is important to note here that this feeling is in no way different from what has also been documented in Nigeria cities. The people do not feel safe as police officers continue to extort money from them. This shows that there is a fundamental structural problem vis-à-vis the salaries/ wages of security personnel, which if paid on time and are a liveable wage, might also motivate them to do their job diligently and objectively. Security experts and concerned citizens have in the past, and continue to this day ,raise and stress this issue for the government to investigate and address.

It is in this light that I would equally add to their voices to say that it is imperative for the federal government to address this concern, as it is the common populace, and often those most vulnerable, who are bearing the brunt. The government, through coordination and leadership of various security organisations, must strictly monitor the activities of officers posted in the border area. In the case where special forces are deployed specifically for curtailing smuggling activities, they must be utilised and enforced to maintain and ensure security and order in the community, rather than waiting for special intervention from the state whenever there is a case of violence and kidnapping. Only when such measures are implemented with urgency, will the border communities, such as Imeko, be safe, and their confidence restored in the ability of the government to protect them.

[1] An Oba is a traditionnal ruler who rules over a Yoruba town or city in southwest Nigeria.

[2] A nomadic tribe found in Northern Nigeria.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Samuel Okunade is a borderlands scholar who researches on borders and migration most especially as it concerns human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa. He is also interested in thinking through ways in which social and ethnic cleavages in border communities could be used for economic integration and social cohesion in Africa. He equally advances the course of border communities that have an age long history of marginalisation and neglect by the government.

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Human Trafficking |Community self-regulation of the sex industry: a bottom-up approach for fighting sex trafficking in India

Efforts by the government of India to prevent and address human trafficking are failing to improve the conditions of the sex industry in a meaningful way, in particular due to its focus on the rehabilitation of ‘rescued’ sex workers. To resist this patronising attitude toward sex work, community organisation Durbar has been working on an alternative ‘paradigm’ to counter human trafficking in Kolkata, one of India’s largest cities. Its approach rooted in community participation in the protection of sex workers is proving effective because the dignity and agency of sex workers are placed central in the organisation’s efforts, writes Jaffer Latief Najar.

Source: Express Photo by Partha Paul

“Our work related to anti-trafficking has two pillars. One is protection, the other prevention. So we are doing rescue operations as a form of protection, and after the rescue operations, we are providing them with aftercare facilities… We are doing this so that girls can be empowered [through knowledge about trafficking] and can better understand what trafficking is.”

This statement by a representative of a non-government organisation working in collaboration with the Indian government in Kolkata to combat human trafficking, particularly trafficking in the sex industry, reveals how sex workers are framed – as victims of trafficking. While human trafficking indeed remains a serious issue in Kolkata, and in the rest of India, with India’s National Crime Record Bureau registering 6,616 cases of trafficking in 2020, this approach of ‘rescuing’ victims of trafficking is doing more harm than good. This is the case particularly due to its failure to regard sex workers as agential individuals, which has led to the criminalisation of activities related to sex work, forceful rescues, physical violence, and a loss of livelihoods in a context of chronic and widespread poverty.

This focus on human trafficking has been accompanied by additional interventions like rehabilitation and ‘sensitisation’ stipulated by Indian national laws; these have been inspired by the United Nations’ framework for anti-trafficking known as the Palermo protocol of 2000.[1] As reflected in the fact that raid and rescue operations targeting human trafficking focus solely on the sex industry (see Sangram, 2018; Walters, 2018), the representative in fact describes how sex work is conflated with human trafficking; moreover, the ‘aftercare’ that follows is rooted in the idea that sex workers should exit the sex industry given the opportunity to do so (even with their own consent). According to this paternalistic approach to the governance of human trafficking, a person’s agency to consent is irrelevant.

Resisting forced ‘resue and rehabilitation’

The targeted ‘beneficiaries’ of such anti-trafficking interventions are not without agency, however, but resent and resist these interventions. For instance, a sex worker I interviewed[2] said:

“Sex workers see anti-trafficking actors as dhandabaaz (rookies) who do business in the name of looking after the welfare of sex workers and monitor [sex] trafficking… The government should think about how it should help sex workers gain and reclaim their dignity. We don’t need rehabilitation.”

To deal with the detrimental impact of anti-trafficking practices, community collectives in India have shown resistance to the government’s approach to sex work and have conceptualised alternative standards for regulating the industry. For instance, in Sonagachi in Kolkata where around 15,000 sex workers are situated, a collective of migrant sex workers called the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Durbar) is engaged in anti-trafficking efforts based on such an alternative governance approach. Unlike the approach taken by the UN and Indian government, Durbar does not conflate human trafficking with either sex work or migration, focusing instead on individual consent and the effects of the migration process on livelihoods (e.g. violence, working situation, health issues, financial exclusion, etc.). It considers sex work a contractual service between consenting adults without any element of force or coercion, supporting decriminalisation of consenting adult sex work in India.

As a result, the organisation has implemented a community-led self-regulatory board (SRB) to keep an eye on new entrants to the Kolkata sex industry, especially when they are underage or have experienced violence. But this kind of monitoring assumes a very different character – the SRB focuses more on individual and community welfare.

One of the members of Durbar talked about how the SRB was formed:

The idea of SRB arose during a conference at Bidhannagar in Kolkata. Many people from outside the city and some representing ministries attended. We presented our work on HIV prevention and other health-related issues. But the people attending the conference said that despite these efforts, we were helping in the continued entry of minors into the industry. We then took up the challenge and worked on this. Later, we decided that we should create a platform stopping minors and adults from forcefully entering into the profession”.

The SRB involves volunteer and peer sex workers who meet newly arrived individuals, make enquiries about their intention to join the trade, their relationship with employers or the person accompanying them, and examine the role of brothel owners and landlords in the process of recruitment. If it appears in Durbar’s intervention that the person is trafficked, it assists with the person’s return, typically without the interference of state agencies or partner NGOs. The peer workers accompany the person and keep in touch with them for a certain period to avoid their return to forced labour. Durbar also offers job opportunities to such persons within the collective.

This self-regulation approach is effective in identifying cases of abuse as they occur in neighbourhoods where sex work takes place, which is not the case for government interventions that may come too late. The approach has also helped community members to create a movement that counters the harmful consequences of government anti-trafficking practices. The data of a decade that I gathered from Durbar’s SRB for my present research show a declining trend of forced or trafficked cases where the organisation has intervened.

Not completely recognised by the government….

This approach of Durbar is not legally authorised by the government because India follows UN protocol guidelines and its domestic anti-trafficking intervention differs from Durbar’s focus on self-regulation. This has produced several hurdles for the members of Durbar in executing their interventions, and also limits resources. For example, a Durbar member mentioned that the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) prevents it from registering the SRB, as ITPA conflates trafficking with sex work, which is opposite to the approach of Durbar’s SRB. While India’s Supreme Court acknowledged the efforts of Durbar and invited Durbar to contribute to national policies on sex work and trafficking, talks with the government about the SRB’s registration have failed. This has resulted in everyday resistance against forced rescues and exclusion from welfare schemes for migrants and entire labour sectors, leaving the community to manage their affairs by interventions like SRB with limited resources.

…yet embraced on the ground

But despite such challenges, my observations of the SRB’s operations on the ground indicate that it has significant legitimacy and acceptability among community members and thus can be viewed as an effective bottom-up approach in combating human trafficking that directly assists in minimising the harm to and abuse of its members. This bottom-up approach has also helped marginalised communities such as sex workers to further develop a movement for advocating their rights and dignity, and challenge the legislations through protests and advocacy campaigns. As a substitute to the government’s approach that does not seem to be built on an understanding of the dynamics of the sex industry, this approach that is conceived and led by community itself shows the effectiveness of participatory governance and hence reflects a learning scope for an evolving critical conceptualisation of human trafficking, hybrid arrangement of anti-trafficking governance, workers’ agency, and the framing of anti-trafficking interventions.

[1] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

[2] This interview was recorded as a part of my ongoing PhD research dedicated to understanding the marginalized perspectives on anti-trafficking interventions in India.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Jaffer Latief Najar is PhD Researcher at International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands.

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Human Trafficking | The criminalisation of sex clients will not help combat human trafficking

Starting in 2014, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons has been held on 30 July each year. The events that correspond to these days are meant to raise awareness about the crime of human trafficking and the protection of the rights of trafficked persons. In the month of September, we are publishing a series on critical engagements with interventions to combat human trafficking. The series opens with Marie-Louise Janssen’s and Silke Heumann’s critical discussion of a new law that seeks to protect victims of human trafficking in the sex industry of the Netherlands, but is unlikely to do so.

The [Dutch] Senate recently passed the Criminalization of Abuse of Prostitutes Who Are Victims of Human Trafficking Act. The bill, submitted by the Christian Union, PvdA, SP and CDA – four prominent political parties in the Netherlands – creates the possibility to punish clients of sex workers when they are found to have known, or to have had “serious reason to suspect”, that someone has been forced into prostitution and is therefore a victim of human trafficking. Those clients can be fined or imprisoned for up to four years.

However, both experiences of sex workers and scientific research on human trafficking show that any form of criminalisation of clients does not prevent human trafficking, but actually increases the vulnerability of sex workers to coercion and violence. Therefore, this law raises many questions.

First, when is someone a victim? Often, ‘unlicensed’ sex workers are equated with victims of exploitation and trafficking. But the increase in the group of sex workers working outside the licensed circuit (popularly called ‘illegal’) is mainly caused by policy – a policy that leads to fewer and fewer licensed workplaces combined with a ban on self-employment.

Secondly, when does legal sex turn into ‘punishable’ sex? If we take the signals of human trafficking used by the police as a guideline, such as illegal residence in the Netherlands and having high debts, quite a few people fall under this category. Does this mean that having sex with a sex worker who has debts or not the right papers is already a crime? And should the sex worker also see herself as a victim? We know from research that only a small proportion of people who are considered victims of trafficking by the government see themselves as such.

Unclear definitions

So while the government comes up with unclear definitions of victimisation, customers are expected to recognise a victim and report it to the police. As a result, customers are now at risk of being criminalised because they “could have suspected” it. Not surprisingly, a recent study shows that customers are less willing to report exploitation or coercion for fear of criminal prosecution.

Third, why does criminalisation apply only to addressing abuse of trafficking victims in the sex industry, and not to victims in other economic sectors? This only contributes to the perception that sex work and human trafficking are the same thing, and thus to the stigma attached to sex work. It seems that this law has little to do with countering violence and abuse, but much more to do with the taboo on paid sex.

In the Netherlands, sex work has been a legal employment sector since 2000. Despite this, we have difficulty with the idea of sexual services. For example, clients are often portrayed as ‘certain kind of men’ who despise women and treat or exploit sex workers violently. Oversimplification is one of the main ways of creating and perpetuating the stereotypes that form the basis for stigmatising clients.

This act stems from the taboo of paid sex

However, in addition to the market for male clients, there is also a growing market in the Netherlands for services to female clients. Business manager Lex of De Stoute Vrouw had to temporarily close her business due to the lockdown, but she is still in daily contact with female homosexual and heterosexual clients who cannot wait to reopen. Eight out of ten of her clients have gone through an unpleasant experience regarding sexuality and find their sexual pleasure again through contact with a female sex worker.

Heteronormative picture

Sex work challenges our idea of how sex should be: based on love and a permanent relationship. But not everyone finds this romantic ideal attainable or desirable, and not everyone fits into this heteronormative picture of a heterosexual couple in a long-term, monogamous relationship. The sex industry meets a need by creating a place where men, women, transgender and non-binary people can meet to explore their bodies and sexuality.

This article was earlier published in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Marie-Louise Janssen is senior lecturer in gender and sexuality studies (UVA).

Silke Heumann is senior lecturer at ISS/EUR.

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