Last week, I followed WOCON on their latest rural sensitization campaign against trafficking in persons in Ogun State. Just two hours away from Lagos, Ogun is apparently another important center for the illegal sale of human beings, especially children for the purpose of domestic work in urban households.
We first arrived in the capital city of Abeokuta, and I must admit that it was quite exciting to be out of Lagos for a change. However, it is clear that Abeokuta is not as industrialized or as crazy as the Lagos I’m used to. For one, there is much more vegetation and much less cars and pollution!
I was also fortunate enough to have time to do some sight seeing and visit the city’s founding point; a gigantic stone structure called “Olumo Rock”. Indeed, the meaning of “Abeokuta” is “Under the Rock”. The rock in question is so huge that apparently back in the day the first town settlers were able to hide in its cracks and protect themselves from their enemies during the period of the tribal wars.
It is in this town rich with an extraordinary history that we began our sensitization campaign with a press conference to publicly announce the aims and objectives of the program. Members of all major media houses were invited to attend and the entire affair was recorded for national television. During the event, one of the reporters raised the very valid question of why is it that the incidence of human trafficking seems to have remained the same in Nigeria despite the fact that more and more organizations are sprouting up every day, claiming to be fighting against the problem.
To this, Bisi answered that the situation has actually improved but indeed still remains difficult to address because traffickers are constantly changing their methods, which further impedes their detection. Moreover, the level of public awareness on this issue is still not sufficient so women, children and parents are still falling into the hands of these exploiters. Finally, the problem of human trafficking will never be fully eradicated unless it is also combined with far reaching economic development and poverty alleviation in Nigeria.
We left Abeokuta the next day and drove to a tiny village nearby called Ibara Orile to complete second part of the campaign. I think that I can say without exaggeration that you can drive back and forth of the entire village in less than 30 minutes. That’s how small Ibara Orile is. It is however in small rural settings like these that traffickers typically recruit the most women and children for prostitution and forced labor in the big cities. WOCON therefore planned to organize a market outreach and a consultative forum that will bring together all major stakeholders in the community to talk about human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children. We chose start the program at the market place because it is often the main gathering point in most villages.
I thought it was quite ironic that we were there to talk about these issues and evidence of the practice could be seen right before our eyes. Indeed, we arrived in the middle of the week at around 11.00 am in morning and there were dozens of children at the market place carrying heavy loads and baskets on their heads instead of attending school.
Nevertheless, the villagers were very receptive to our call. We proceeded to walk around the market place with talking drums, posters, songs and a megaphone to get everyone’s attention, tell them about WOCON’s work and invite them to the discussion forum taking place right after. When the music started, some of the market women even joined our procession, dancing and singing.
At the end of the day, WOCON’s open air market outreach and consultative forum both enabled the villagers of Ibara Orile to discuss their views on trafficking and start thinking about ways on how they can protect themselves and their children. I think it was indeed effective in getting people to think about the problem. However, I feel that WOCON can do more in terms of follow up work to assess how far they’ve come in bringing this important message to the grassroots level. I think that more baseline surveys and data collection projects in these rural communities will further increase the effectiveness of WOCON’s awareness campaigns.
Posted By Malia Mayson (Nigeria)
Posted Aug 12th, 2005