Sex traffickers are moving out of Edo state to avoid detection as foreign donors pour money into anti-trafficking programmes in the traditional hotspot, anti-slavery experts said, calling for a national approach.
Edo state has long been the country’s hub for women and girls trafficked for sex work in Europe, often bound by black magic and trapped in debt bondage for years.
Edo and to a lesser extent Delta state have been the target of a crackdown in recent years with anti-trafficking programmes funded by Britain, the European Union and other partners, but activists said this may just be pushing the problem elsewhere.
“The trend is that the traffickers who are no longer comfortable in Edo and Delta state, they are moving to other parts of the neighbouring states, like Ondo, Kogi, Bayelsa,” said Emmanuel Daramola, who runs a charity for victims.
“This is one of the gaps which the intervention needs to begin to look into,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
There is no recent data on where traffickers are concentrated, said Chervine Oftadeh, an associate expert on human trafficking at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Nigeria.
“We have been informed of the fact that people are moving, that there are other states being targeted, but we don’t have numbers,” he said, adding more research was needed.
The head of Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency said she had long been aware of this risk and had urged international donors to broaden their reach, but most were still focused on Edo.
“When you concentrate on one state they move to the next,” said Julie Okah-Donli, Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
“I’ve advised several partners that whatever efforts or interventions should be spread equally among all the states,” she said.
NAPTIP created its first state task force against trafficking in Edo state in 2017, but has since done the same in Delta, Ekiti and Ondo and plans to eventually reach all 36 states, Okah-Donli said.
Edo has also had a state-level law since last year that carries a minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for sex and labour trafficking, compared to two years under federal law.
“Common sense states that traffickers will move elsewhere,” said Debbie Ariyo, an anti-trafficking expert based in Britain.
“We should have a national approach rather than an Edo state approach,” she said.
Neighbouring states have little to no intervention around trafficking and similar push factors such as poverty and lack of jobs, Ariyo said.
But it would also be a mistake to lose momentum where progress has already been made, said Oftadeh of UNODC.
“Although the phenomenon is developing elsewhere, let’s not forget that we have built something in Edo state and that we should not just leave it because it might fall apart,” he said.
*Reported by Nellie Peyton for Thomson Reuters Foundation.