See Benue community where children are trafficked for money, sex - Thewatchnews: Nigeria #1 Online Newspaper

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Sunday, 15 November 2020

See Benue community where children are trafficked for money, sex

See Benue community where children are trafficked for money, sex


JOY, a child trafficking victim from Igede, Benue State, was found dead in her room in Lagos during the recent COVID-19 lockdown.

She was said to have been strangled by her boss who then hung her lifeless body and claimed that she committed suicide.

Joy’s boss’ story sounded credible and was taken hook, line and sinker by many who heard the emotional and well-crafted narration. But they did not sound logical to one of the kinsmen of the deceased girl, Barrister Michael Awo Ejeh, the founder of Ogedegede Community Development Foundation (OCDF), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that leads a coalition of civil society organisations in Benue South. “Joy was one of the victims of the Covid-19 lockdown,” he said.

“She had a dispute with her madam who strangulated her and hung her body to make it look as if she committed suicide.

“The girl had been starved, so she went to pick noodles to eat but the woman quarreled with her for doing so without her knowledge.

She then descended on Joy and beat her mercilessly.

“When the police went for investigation, there were bruises all over her body. If you see the crime scene, the whole bed and everything was rumpled. That shows that there was a fight and that it was not a natural death.

  “We shouted to the high and mighty in the police and the National Assembly and involved them in this case. We insisted that she must be charged to court. As I speak with you, the woman is in prison and the trial is ongoing.”

The late Joy’s case is said to be one out of the numerous others involving thousands of Igede children who are susceptible to trafficking. In a tone laden with disappointment, Barrister Ejeh said the vice is escalating in the area because “Igede is a very remote community where there are no basic amenities like hospitals or social recreation centres.

“We don’t even have a high court or things that could make the youths to stay back at home.” The wife of Igede monarch, Her Royal Highness, Queen Esther Oga Ero, told The Nation that child trafficking had been the business for many people in the area.

“They traffic young people from here to the southern parts of the country and even up to Italy.

“It is something that has been a problem to us in the domain and we have been trying to curb it but our efforts are not yielding the needed fruits because no interest group is ready to rehabilitate such children when we rescue them.”

The queen observed that human traffickers in the area operate like a cartel.

She said: “They always come home to look for house helps. Because poverty is palpable here, when some of the girls get to junior secondary school, they go out to look for a job in order to come back and write their junior NECO and WAEC.

  “Sometimes they fall into the hands of some agents who connect them to supposed masters and mistresses where they would work as house help, but at the end of the day, it turns out to be something else.” 

Sunny Abara, who coordinates the activities of OCDF in Lagos State, also shared the story of 13-year-old Sarah who was trafficked at a very tender age and had served seven different families before she was eventually rescued.

Amara said: “Sarah had not had any education when she was trafficked from Benue to Lagos. From the age of five, she had served seven different families, taking care of women of over 80 years.

“After working in one place for one year, the stepfather would come and tell the boss that he wanted to take her back home.

“But what he does in the actual sense is to take her to another family, pretending that he just brought her from the village.

One day, she had issues with the old woman she was taking care of. The woman fell down and she started laughing.

“Angered by her action, the woman threw a bottle of water at her. She ran out of the house and started loitering on the street.

“She was picked up by the police welfare unit at Adeniji under the tree where some boys were smoking Indian hemp and dealing in other illicit drugs.

She is now under protective custody in Abuja.” Ejeh also recalled how three Igede children loitering the street of Lagos were found by a good Samaritan who assisted them to return home.

“We have a serious existential threat to the future generation because of trafficking in the land.

“We rescued many children who were found roaming the streets of Lagos and other major streets in Nigeria.

“They were being maltreated because they were under gruesome child labour.

“I invited the owner of an orphanage in Makurdi from Abuja to come and intervene in the case of three children found by a Tiv man, wandering in Lagos.

They had serious bruises on their legs and other body parts. They had been seriously maltreated.

Many of them were sexually violated.

”The man who found them paid their fare and had them dropped in Makurdi. “At Makurdi, somebody led them to the orphanage which contacted my organisation, Ogedegede Community Development Foundation.

“We then reached out to Obi Local Government Area’s officials who volunteered to help in tracing the identities of these children.”

Ejeh noted that many of the rescued children hardly remember where they came from or recall the names of their parents.

“A lot of these children, like I said earlier, are seen loitering around the streets with different degrees of bruises and attacks on their bodies.

They have been under child labour for years. “A lot of the trafficked children are so tender that they could not just remember their parents’ names or the names of their communities.

“What we do is to send our members to those locations, incident the matter with the police, interview the victims, take their pictures and go to social media to ask if any of our people knows the victim.

 “If the victim is able to mention a particular community, we will then narrow it down.

“We have at various times succeeded in tracing some of the parents of the victims and reintegrating them with their children.

“We have some of them in orphanages in Abuja. There was one that was being trafficked for prostitution abroad and we intervened.

“We have taken the campaign to the doorsteps of our people. We have met the traditional ruler of Igede, we have met with past local government executives to drive home the message that our children can no longer be sold in the common market because of wrapper or because of bottles of wine or money.

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