Monday, January 28, 2008

African Cup of Nations '08 May Be Fertile Ground for Human Trafficking

From All Africa:

The African Cup of Nations (ACN) tournament, Ghana 2008, is just around the corner. With thousands of Africans expected from all over the continent to attend the biennial soccer fiesta, much more has to be done to protect vulnerable children and women who may end up as victims of another boom for modern day slave merchants and their collaborators.

Reports clearly state that human trafficking is a major problem in the West African sub-region, and the cross-border nature of the menace makes it even more worrisome. As the tournament, approaches, law enforcement agencies have to be on their toes to combat the plans of human traffickers who may have perfected their acts to turn the football fiesta into another jumbo harvest field for their illicit trade. Human trafficking, according to the United States' State Department report, is the third most lucrative business in the world after drugs and trading in arms, with an estimated annual earning of $5-$7 billion. The United Nations estimates that about 706,000 to four million women and children are trafficked every year. Out of this figure, 50 percent are children with some as young as under six years.

The ECOWAS secretariat estimates that not less than 300,000 children have fallen victim to trafficking in the sub-region, citing an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report. The ECOWAS Commission already has a protocol among member states that makes trafficking an offence. Member states are currently being encouraged to embark on reforms of national laws with a view to harmonising them with international and regional conventions and protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

Only recently, the Ghanaian government was called upon to put adequate measures in place to prevent human traffickers from having their ways. This followed the disclosure by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service and some organisations that some people have perfected plans to recruit children for prostitution during the tournament.

The secret association of commercial sex workers in Accra and Takoradi had earlier expressed concern, though for selfish reasons, about media reports of invasion of prostitutes from neighbouring Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire in the run up to the African Cup of Nations tournament.

Bright Appiah, an activist with the Children Right International, an NGO also said he had information from Kumasi that some "underground agents" have been paid to recruit sex workers, with children as some of their targets.

Speaking at a two-day workshop organised by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and sponsored by the British High Commission at Senchi near Akosombo in the Eastern region of Ghana recently, Appiah said as the security agencies beef up their watchdog role in host cities and surrounding towns of Ghana 2008 tournament, children could also be protected if government imposed a curfew on children during the tournament.

While this may appear a sincere suggestion, observers are not in any way in support of this as it will definitely be an infringement of the rights of the child to free movement.International sporting events, no doubt, have become fertile ground for human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children.

The case of Ghana 2008 cannot, therefore, be an exception. Adu Poku, Director General of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service confirmed this as well. "The international sporting events have become a fertile ground for human trafficking for sexual exploitation, the documented patterns of frequent trafficking of children for force prostitution during World Cups and others as well as the increase of recruitment of children for prostitution in South Africa for the upcoming World Cup create a dire picture. We need to fight it to ensure zero tolerance for human trafficking," said the Ghana CID boss.

Tatiana Kotlyarenko, Executive Director of Enslavement Prevention Alliance West Africa, however, puts the challenge at hand in proper perspective. "In South Africa, there are media reports of how street children as young as nine years old are being lured and prepared for prostitution for World Cup 2010," she said and warned: "With no preventive measures in place and relatively easy border crossings for other ECOWAS members prior to and during the CAN 2008, it is highly probable that thousands of women and children will be trafficked into Ghana for the purposes of exploitation, as well as recruited internally."

Organisations around the world are currently expressing sincere and serious concerns about the problem of human trafficking into the Southern African region in the run up to the World Cup 2010.

The need to adequately prepare for the upcoming World Cup was on of the topics on the agenda at a conference held by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) in Bangkok, Thailand last November.

The Nigerian government passed an Anti-trafficking Act shortly after the UN Protocol came into force. Some states in the country have also localised the Child Rights Act.

The National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was also established in 2005 to prevent human trafficking and protect victims of trafficking as well. Under the leadership of Carol Ndaguba, its Executive Secretary, NAPTIP has successfully prosecuted 9 cases resulting in 11 convictions while 35 more cases are ongoing.

* This article does a good job of providing perspectives from multiple stakeholders on the problem of sex trafficking and child trafficking at large international sporting events in Africa, such as the ACN tournament, yet fails to mention anything about tangible initiatives or actions to address the issue. While this may have been a limitation of the reporting, it may also be that there are is no set plan of action at the current time; however, if the latter is true the reporter should have mentioned it.

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