She said strategies for people’s empowerment and preventive measures relevant for the success of that policy, among others, deserved particular attention.
Speaking at ECOWAS Ministerial Meeting on the Adoption of the Regional Policy for Protection and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking in Persons in West Africa, she said women and children were the most vulnerable when it came to human trafficking and called for a check to enable them to maximize their full potentials through productive activities.
Ms Dansua said statistics had indicated that between 200,000 and 800,000 people were trafficked yearly in West Africa and urged member states of ECOWAS to demonstrate their commitment beyond words to adequately resource their National Task Forces, yet to be established, to implement the policy. “I am confident that we shall live up to expectation, under the wider context of the united Nations and African Union conventions, treaties and protocols to protect the human rights of our citizens, particularly those of the vulnerable, excluded and disadvantaged in society.
“Let us also remember to review the policy periodically so as to be abreast with the dynamics of human trafficking. We must network more vigorously, research, and share our various national experiences and to benefit from national, regional and also international best practices.”
Dr Adrienne Diop, ECOWAS Commissioner of Human Development and Gender, said trafficking in persons exacted a high toll on a victim, physically, emotionally and psychologically.
She said it also led to the loss of opportunity to develop the life-skills of victims, which were essential to a sustainable livelihood, adding that the consequences to the affected society were equally grave and included the growth and diversification of organized crimes.
Most trafficking groups, she noted, were likely to get involved in other types of organized crimes with proceeds from trafficking in persons.
Those crimes include trafficking in drugs, weapons, smuggling and other fraudulent behaviours.
Dr Diop said trafficking also posed a major threat to society including the demographic destabilization of communities as young people moved out of rural to urban areas.
This, she said, contributed to insecurity and instability as the next generations of criminals were produced via the process of trafficking that robbed them of any real opportunities in life.
She said measures ECOWAS was taking to combat the scourge include the Adoption in 2001 by heads of states of ECOWAS of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in 2011. Another is the collaboration between West and Central Africa in adopting the Joint Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons in West and Central Africa in 2006.
The importance of care and assistance to victims, the commissioner said, could not be overemphasized in the combat of trafficking. She added that to neglect the victims would be a negation of the very overarching goals of human security and development which informed the ECOWAS in the area of counter trafficking.
At the end of the three-day meeting, the participants would adopt a regional policy to establish and maintain a supportive and friendly environment where victims of human rights trafficking and explorative/hazardous child labour have equitable access to protection and assistance in the sub-region.
Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Chief Michael Kaase Aondokaa, said the complexities of challenges of human trafficking required urgent and timely intervention that was multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral, multi-national and multi-national in nature. He said it was therefore commendable that the region was developing a synergy of action to combat the evil phenomenon because no one nation could tackle it alone.
He said Nigeria had responded to challenges of trafficking by criminalizing the phenomenon through enacting a specific law against trafficking in persons, stipulating stiff penalties for offenders as well establishing an agency to implement the Law.
Nigeria, he said, had gone to negotiate and enter into bilateral and multi-lateral agreement with different countries for combating trafficking.
He added that the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria had approved both National Plan of Action and the National Policy on the Protection and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking in 2008. These inventions, he said, had resulted in dismantling organized criminal groups, assisted over 2,500 victims, with 44 convictions and 62 cases awaiting hearing in various courts in Nigeria.
Chief Aondokaa therefore urged all ECOWAS member countries to address the issue of human trafficking with the seriousness it deserves, devoting considerable efforts and resources to rehabilitate victims of trafficking.
Mr Elike Kofi Segbor, UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa, said research and experience had shown that conflict situation, involuntary displacement and persecution placed displaced people at greater risk of exploitation and abuse.
He said their vulnerability made them easy targets for traffickers in their desperate attempts to find safety and security.
ECOWAS, he said, should ensure that its citizens who had been displaced in other countries had security of status and did not have to resort to secondary movement through trafficking or smuggling.
UNHCR, he said, would continue to support ECOWAS in developing mechanisms for tackling causes and affects of irregular migration within and outside the sub-region.