Some 15,00 people live here in the most basic conditions imaginable
KANO, 7 July 2008 (IRIN) – The trafficking of girls from villages to cities in Nigeria is increasing and the state is powerless to stop the trade, officials said.
“The business of recruiting teenage girls as domestic help in rich and middle-class homes is booming despite our efforts to put a stop to it”, Bello Ahmed, head of the Kano office of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), said in an interview.
Girls aged 12-17 are regularly trafficked from villages and brought to the city to work as maids for an average monthly wage of 1,500 naira (US$13) which they usually send back to their parents who are caring for several of their siblings, according to Ahmed.
“Apart from being denied access to education, these girls are in many cases raped and beaten by their employers and this is why we keep a dormitory to rehabilitate them”, Ahmed said.
“Bringing in girls from the villages to the city to work as house helps continues unabated. In fact it is on the rise”, agreed Mairo Bello, head of Adolescent Health Information Project, a Kano-based non-governmental organisation (NGO).
As well as poverty, trafficking in girls and women is driven by the extreme income inequality which exists in Nigeria, and gender inequality. The problem is prevalent all around the country.
Saudatu Halilu, a 16 year-old girl who moved to Kano from a rural village to work as a maid, has been a victim of the trade’s dangers.
Saudatu was brought to Kano from Nassarawa State in central Nigeria 10 months ago to work as a domestic help, but she said her master forced her into sleeping with him and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
“I was too scared to tell my mistress or anyone what happened for fear of what my master would do to me and I did not realise I was pregnant until a medical check after I began to show some signs which attracted the attention of my mistress”, Halilu told AFP.
Poverty drives parents into steering their teenage daughters into work as domestic helps, believing the menial jobs would secure better living conditions for their daughters, Ahmed said.
“I had no option but to send Hindu, who is my eldest daughter, to work in the city because we are poor and need money to feed”, said Aisha, a mother of six, who sent her eldest child, 14 year-old Hindu Nasidi, to Kano to earn money. The girl upset her keepers by not washing plates properly and they ground chilli pepper into her vagina as a punishment.
“The money she was paid from the job was very helpful in taking care of her six siblings until the unfortunate incident”, Nasidi said, blaming rising food prices for her decision to send the young girl out to work in the first place.
With Hindu’s job gone the family now ekes out a living from Nasidi’s raffia mat weaving and her husband’s mango and watermelon hawking which do not bring in enough money to buy sufficient food for their six children.
Although NAPTIP has managed to stop the practice of teenage girls being ferried in trucks from villages to the cities “like chickens”, Ahmed admitted his agency had failed to stop the trade.
“The more the law enforcement agencies perfect their strategies at stopping the business, the more the perpetrators become more sophisticated in running their trade”, he said.
Lack of legislation to prosecute the traffickers makes NAPTIP unable to take legal action against traffickers even when they are arrested, according to Ahmed.
The Child Rights Act which provides for five year jail terms and US$424 fines for perpetrators of child labour is yet to be endorsed by the northern states’ legislatures because some clauses in it have been found controversial by religious and cultural leaders.
The Act has been a source of friction between the Nigerian federal government, which has endorsed it, and the northern legislative houses.
“We are disturbed by the trend of using teenage girls as domestic helps which is a form of child labour and we are aware of the provision in the Child Rights Act that deals with that issue”, Abdulaziz Garba Gafasa, speaker of Kano’s parliament, told IRIN.
“However we can’t endorse the Act because of certain clauses that are in conflict with our religious and cultural values; once such grey areas are expunged we will approve it, otherwise we will make by-laws at state level that will deal with the perpetrators of this despicable act.”
Mohammed Aliyu Mashi, who collaborates with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in fighting child trafficking, rejected the notion that there was no legislation to prosecute child traffickers, saying what was lacking was the political will to enforce the law.
“There is provision in the penal code operating in the north which prescribes five year jail terms to life imprisonment to people convicted of child trafficking and child labour”, Mashi said.
“The claim of lack of legislature is just a ruse; it is an excuse to avoid prosecuting offenders because of lack of political will from officials.”