By Julie Okah-Donli
A lot of persons are familiar with the saying if you see something, say something. But then, I ask what next after saying something? Do we all go back to our ways of life as though nothing has happened?
Is it good enough for people to talk about a predicament without doing anything about it? Does that solve the problem? For instance, when one is sick, is it enough to talk about how one feels alone without going for proper medical attention?
Even after seeking medical attention, we still need to back it up with the action of taking medication at the right time and other healthy lifestyles else merely talking about it becomes an exercise in futility.
In human trafficking for instance, let’s say that we come upon a trafficker who is in the process of sending out some children for domestic servitude and slavery and rather than get NAPTIP and other NGOs to do something, we decide to only talk about it in the comfort of our homes, will the mere act of talking alone be enough to prevent the innocent children from being trafficked?
It’s like when a house is on fire, talking and screaming alone can never put out the fire. Some persons have to go beyond talking to getting water to put off the fire.
These and so many other practical examples prove that it is good to say something when we see something but we also need to back it up by doing something. Take Action!!!
Several times in the past, during the course of discharging our duties, we have had to swing into action immediately because in tackling the scourge of human trafficking, every second counts because victims are usually confined to situations where they cannot assist themselves and so they depend on us not just to talk about their plight but to get them out of harm’s way.
For instance, there is the case of a young lady who was deceived by her friend under the pretense of getting her a better job overseas. She resigned from her job and gladly jumped at the offer and as soon as she stepped her feet into the host country, her international passport and other travel documents were seized.
She was given out to work as a domestic staff where she was subjected to unimaginable and inhumane living conditions. She attempted to run away and after spending several nights on the streets, her traffickers caught up with her, had her brutalized, raped and leased out on a three year no rest domestic servant contract.
She reached out to NAPTIP when she was at the verge of giving up on life and I knew that it was not just enough for us to say something, we had to do something. I had to travel all the way from Nigeria to her host country to rescue her.
I learnt from her upon my arrival that her traffickers had already perfected plans to completely sell her off for life. This means that if we had relented on mere deliberations and meetings about her predicament, we may have lost her forever.
In tackling the menace of human trafficking, a stitch in time saves not just nine but many more because for every day that we delay in taking action, many victims get trafficked and those in life threatening situations could even die because time is of essence in human trafficking issues.
Saying something and doing something is not just restricted to the areas of preventing trafficking and rescuing victims alone that is the reason why shelters are necessary to house and feed trafficked victims pending when they are ready to become independent.
Doing something also extends to the areas of rehabilitation and reintegration of victims into the society. When victims are rescued, it is not just enough to leave them unattended to believing that they may have learnt their lessons.
We need to provide legal services and ensure that justice is served and that they are adequately compensated and culprits punished.
Also, professional counselling and guidance sessions should be provided so that victims can have the opportunity to air out their experiences in such a way that they end up feeling better. Telling their stories could lead to healing and closure.
Doing something also entails that we offer victims humanitarian aid that will enable them get back on their feet. Such aid could come in the form of startup capital for business, employment opportunities, subsidized/free skills acquisition centers, starter packs, scholarships, etc. This eliminates the chances of them falling back to the hands of traffickers as a result of hunger, poverty and idleness.
Law enforcement agencies and courts of law also have a role to play in this regard. They can do something by ensuring prompt arrest and diligent and timely prosecution of victims.
This way many people who are involved in this crime will be aware that it is not just an all talk show for them but that the law will ensure that they pay for their crimes.
As a practical and proactive person, I am determined that beyond creating awareness (talking and writing) about the dangers of human trafficking, I will do something to ensure that we put a stop to this terrible act of man’s inhumanity against his fellow man and that victims get all the necessary legal, humanitarian, financial and medical aid before they are reintegrated back into the society. These are some of the objectives of The Roost Foundation.
Dame Julie Okah-Donli is the Chair of the board of trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons (UNVTF) and Executive Chairman, Roost Foundation. She was until December 2020, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).