forced labour

Nigeria: Rivers State police rescue 15 children abducted for trafficking

By ‘Tofe Ayeni

Posted on September 7, 2022 15:04

 © Two Nigerian sex workers sit on a bed in a room, at a bar in Burkina Faso’s town of Bobo-Dioulasso 360 kms (220 miles) West of Ouagadougou, June 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)/
Two Nigerian sex workers sit on a bed in a room, at a bar in Burkina Faso’s town of Bobo-Dioulasso 360 kms (220 miles) West of Ouagadougou, June 6, 2020 (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)/

In Nigeria, the Rivers State police said that it freed 15 children abducted for trafficking. The children were found with a 44-year-old woman, Maureen Wechinwu, claiming to be a nun.

Various reports put the ages of the children between 4 to 15 years old.

Eboka Friday, the Rivers state commissioner of police, does not believe the woman was working alone: “Investigation is ongoing with the view of arresting other suspects linked to the case.”

The abductions

Trafficking is common in Nigeria, with children being kidnapped and sold into domestic labour, sex work, and other types of forced labour.

The Nigeria police force in Sokoto said they had arrested two suspects for attempted kidnapping and trafficking through the Illela border to Libya earlier this week, and hope to round up the rest of that cartel.

The children in the Rivers state case, who had been taken from different places across the country, but particularly in the south south area, had been tortured according to the police.

Friday gave details of some of the rescued children, including “Prosper Godwin (m) [who] was abducted at Ikpazasia market in Bayelsa State, on October 31, 2020, together with two others [for] whom he does not know their whereabouts … was sold to a woman at Lagos and subsequently returned to the suspect.”

Another victim, Friday says, was “Queen Harry (f) … abducted at Ojukwu field Mile 1, Diobu, Port Harcourt, while on an errand with the elder sister. The mother, Mrs Florence has been contacted and she corroborated the facts.”

The defence

Friday reports that: “On September 3, 2022, Operation Restore Peace Personnel of the Command, acting on credible information, regarding hideout of child traffickers, stormed Onuigwe Abuja Phase II, in Ikwerre Local Council, where a lady, who claimed to be Rev. Sister  Maureen Wechinwu … was arrested.”

In an interview after the arrest, Wechinwu denies being a child trafficker, saying: “I run an orphanage home with children of mad people. Fransisca Onyinyechi, who was given birth to by a mad woman in Ogboro market is one … I cannot say that I am a reverend sister now that I am a disgrace. But I believe I am before now.”

Wechinwu, however, mentions the names of her co-conspirators, saying a man named Mr Victor and a woman called Miss Alice used to bring children to her for a fee – around N50,000 per child, sometimes more.

Does Nigeria have a trafficking problem?

Child trafficking in the country can be traced back to the 1960s, but it has recently become a global issue since the deportations of people trafficked to Europe and the Middle East for prostitution started in 1994.

Both internal and external trafficking of children happens in Nigeria. Internally, children are kidnapped from rural areas and taken to cities for forced exploitative labour of all kinds. Externally, children are taken across national borders for prostitution or other forms of labour.

Pathfinders Justice Initiative, a leading international impact organisation dedicated to the prevention of sex slavery/sexual violence and the liberation of enslaved women and girls, reports that as of 2018: “Nigeria ranks 32/167 of the countries with the highest number of slaves … 61% of human trafficking in Nigeria happens internally, while 39% is generated from cross-border trafficking. It is the third most common crime in Nigeria after drug trafficking and economic fraud (UNESCO, 2006).”

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