Police have rescued 216 human trafficking victims, mainly children aged between 11 and 16, from forced labour and prostitution in a major operation in Benin and Nigeria, Interpol said on Wednesday.
With a number of investigations ongoing, police arrested 47 people and seized vehicles, cash, mobile phones and computers as part of Interpol’s
Operation Epervier II which involved 100 police officers across Nigeria and Benin, who rescued 157 child slaves, during raids in early April.
Many of the children were working in markets peddling goods, carrying heavy loads or fetching water, while others worked as housemaids or were forced into prostitution, Interpol said.
Evidence in the region shows that victims of trafficking are recruited and trafficked using deception and coercion, and held in bondage in various labour intensive activities. Of the minors rescued, 36 were boys and 121 were girls, and were from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.
About 1.4 million people are estimated to live as slaves in Nigeria, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index published by human rights group Walk Free Foundation, while Benin has an estimated 58,000 slaves.
According to the Interpol, the youngest of the children rescued was found at the land border between Benin and Nigeria where police found a boy who had been forced to carry heavy goods such as bags of rice weighing up to 40 kg between Nigeria and Benin.
“Human trafficking is a transnational crime from which the vulnerable, especially children, simply cannot walk away,” said Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General.
“This operation underlines the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts,” Stock added.
Interpol notes that most of the minors endured beatings and psychological abuse, including death threats and warnings they would never see their parents again.
Hence, upon their rescue, the victims received necessary care, with social services and NGOs undertaking post-operation interviews and providing support services.
In Benin, the minors were transferred to shelters, returned to their parents or taken into care by national social affairs authorities and NGOs, while in Nigeria, the minors were taken in charge by NAPTIP, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons which works with NGOs.
Hounde Seidou, the Police Divisional Commissioner of Benin’s Central Bureau for the Protection of Minors and Families and the Prevention of Human Trafficking (OCPM) said: “Nobody belongs in the markets or on the streets as slave labourers. As law enforcement officers it is our duty to combat human trafficking, especially when children are involved.”
Similarly, Do Asogwa, Comptroller of Nigeria’s Immigration Service in the Seme border region stressed the need for cooperation to combat the crime networks behind the trafficking and smuggling of human beings.
“These crimes can only be tackled collectively and through interagency cooperation,” Asogwa stated.