Laura Cardinal (Nigeria)

Laura Cardinal (Women's Consortium of Nigeria - WOCON): Originally from Albany, New York, Laura Cardinal received her Bachelor of Arts with a focus on Africa Studies from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation she received a fellowship from Rotary International and spent a year living and volunteering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. After returning from East Africa she worked in Chicago, Illinois at Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries, a refugee resettlement agency. At the time of her fellowship Laura was pursuing a dual degree at Columbia University - a Master of International Affairs at the School for International and Public Affairs, with a focus on Conflict Resolution, and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the Forced Migration Program and the Mailman School.

Girls in Need of Friends

23 Jun

Stepping through the gates I have to admit I was nervous. I was in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, visiting one of the six shelters for victims of human trafficking run by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP).

NAPTIP was established in 2003 as a result of the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Law Enforcement and Administration Act that was passed earlier that same year in Nigeria. Charged with coordinating all anti-trafficking measures within the country as well as being the sole body mandated to prosecute suspected traffickers within Nigeria, NAPTIP has had to grow into its responsibilities quickly and under the watchful eye of the growing international community committed to fighting the trafficking of persons.

One of the ways in which NAPTIP has done this is through the establishment of six safe houses throughout Nigeria which serve as protection and rehabilitation centers for children and young women who have been victimized by human trafficking.

Though I had the opportunity to visit other NAPTIP shelters, this was the first time I was being granted permission to talk to the girls residing in the shelters and despite my being 5-10 years older than them, I was still nervous. To be honest I didn’t know what to expect. Having been immersed in the subject of trafficking since my arrival I knew that these girls could be the victims of any number of types of trafficking that is found in Nigeria.

Perhaps some of the girls would have been rescued from abroad, lured there by some false promise of work and economic salvation only to be forced into prostitution upon arrival. Others I knew had been internally trafficking moved from state to state to work into the multitude of brothels that exist throughout Nigeria. And still others would be victims of child labor. Sent to the city by their parents from the village to live with a distant relative or friend with the promise of schooling and a better life, instead these children often find themselves bonded into a life of domestic servitude.

Walking into the house I was worried about what I might see. Would I find girls so broken down and scared that even an agency like NAPTIP would not be able to help them? Would I have the courage to ask them about their hopes for their futures when I myself wonder if I would have the courage to live on had this happened to me?

Cautiously, I walked through the door and peaked around the corner to see if I could catch a glimpse of any of the girls who were currently residing at the house. Within moments Jessica and I were surrounded by nine laughing girls who were showing us their bead work (a skill taught to them via the rehabilitation program sponsored by NAPTIP), asking us our names and showing us eagerly around their house.

In love with the American recording star Usher, the girls couldn’t wait to show us their latest dance moves, and I found that I felt almost immediately at ease. As we haggled over the price of a newly made beaded purse and laughed with the girls I remembered that despite what these girls had been through, they still simply were just that, girls. Girls in need of friends and love and protection and it seems that this is exactly what NAPTIP is giving them.

Posted By Laura Cardinal (Nigeria)

Posted Jun 23rd, 2006

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