INVESTIGATION: Grim tales of rape, child trafficking in Nigeria’s displaced persons camps

INVESTIGATION: Grim tales of rape, child trafficking in Nigeria’s displaced persons camps

On a bed at the female ward of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital laid a 15-year-old girl in an evidently bad state. Her face and head were bandaged, leaving slits through which only a bruised eye and swollen lips were visible. On her body were clearer signs of trauma, with burns running from her neck down to the lower parts of her body.

Around her bed wafted a foul smell, which a nurse who came to attend to her attributed to a septic wound in the girl’s skull.

A nurse who does not want to be named, because she is not authorised to speak to the on the matter, told the, that a group of people from the biggest Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Maiduguri dumped Lami (the surnames of all victims in this report are withheld to protect them) at the hospital.

“We have many of them. They’d been either raped in the camp or sold by those that should be protecting them in the camps,” the nurse said.

Approached by the reporter, Lami tried to speak, but her voice was muffled into a whisper as pains coursed through her body.

She said her parents were killed by Boko Haram insurgents in her village and she managed to reach Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, in an open truck that dropped people off at a camp for displaced persons.

In the course of moving from one camp to the other, she was separated from her younger brother.

“I do not know where he is,” she said through muffled sobs.

How did she end up in the hospital burnt and battered?

Lami said some government officials came to the camp and took many young girls away and later sold them as slaves. She ended up in the house of one Alhaji Aliyu, whose brother and wife abused her. While Aliyu’s brother repeatedly raped her, his wife weighed in with physical abuse.

“One day, some people came to the camp and said that they were taking us to a better place. That was how I got to Alhaji Aliyu’s house and it was there, every day, his brother forcefully slept with me.

“After that, he would beat me and one of Alhaji’s wives too would always beat me. One day she attacked me with a knife. That was how I got the wound in my skull,” she recounted.

Lami’s case, depressingly, is not an isolated one. Hundreds of girls are now being trafficked from some of the IDP camps in the Northeast set up to cater for people displaced by the insurgency, especially unregistered ones.

It was learnt that because many of the camps cannot accommodate all the people displaced from their homes by Boko Haram attacks, many IDPs end up in makeshift unofficial camps close to the officially designated ones or in nearby villages.

The people in the makeshift camps are not officially registered and technically are not under the care of government.

They are usually taken care of by villagers or even relatives in the government-run camps. Somehow, state officials have the same access and control over these unofficial camps.

They ran from their village in Adamawa and are in small unregistered camp in Gombe
They ran from their village in Adamawa and are in small unregistered camp in Gombe

A fertile ground for child trafficking

Kingsley Ogar, a staff of an international donor agency, who does not want his organisation named, confirmed that child trafficking is rife in the IDP camps.

“We had a case in Gombe where a group of persons came from the South, Lagos or Ibadan, we can’t be so sure, paid some people and took away children from the camp.

“We went to deliver relief items in this particular IDP Camp and took a census so that we could come back the following day, which we did, only to realize that over a dozen of them were missing. They were mostly young children between the ages of 5 and 15. “Upon investigation we discovered that some “lords” in the camp were in partnership with the Lagos people to sell the kids.

“We reported to the police (Gombe State command), but we do not know whether they have done anything,” he said.

Our reporter learnt of an IDP camp in Yola where there were said to be about 900 children without parents. It was alleged that children were being sold and trafficked in the camp.

Our reporter visited the camp posing as an official of a church that takes care of children and made startling discoveries. An official in the camp named Raila, who wore the reflective vest of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, told the reporter to wait while she went into a makeshift office. There, she spoke with a male colleague, whom she said is an official of NEMA.

She returned to announce: “You will pay N50,000.for each child and you can only go with three if you want them today,” as if she was in a livestock market.

Apparently not totally devoid of conscience, she tried to rationalise her illicit trade. “We use the money to take care of the other children still here,” she said.

Without any attempt at verifying the reporter’s identity and in less than 30 minutes, three children were ready to be sold, possibly never to return to their roots.

Further investigations revealed that such child trafficking business is a thriving and well-run racket in most IDP camps in the insurgency ravaged North east. It is a triangular manifestation of evil that comprises some heartless displaced persons, unscrupulous camp officials and child traffickers.

Displaced persons who know the children without parents act as middlemen between the buyer and the seller. They liaise with people who come from places as far flung as Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Abuja, Katsina, to carry out the first step in the trafficking process.

The displaced person also identifies the children to be sold and goes ahead to negotiate a price, which, it was gathered, could range from as little as N10,000 to as much as N100,000. After negotiations, the middleman approaches the camp official in charge. The official collects the money and approves the release of the kids.

The child trafficker, we gathered, then re-sells the children to an interested family as a domestic servant or slave.

Like Lami, many, if not all of these children, have very little education. They have little knowledge of their rights and no clue as to how to return home. Those they entrusted their lives with at the IDP camps liaise with the traffickers and agents exploiting their vulnerability in this hideous transaction.


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