The situation is equally terrible in Britain. Kevin Hyland, head of the United Kingdom Anti-Slavery Commission, says Nigerians constitute the majority of the 13,000 modern slaves there. “The rise in the numbers is staggering. Nigerian women and girls are enslaved and sexually exploited here in the UK,” Hyland says. His lamentation resonates with Nigerians. Even at home, prostitution, described as the “world’s oldest profession,” presents a long-standing conundrum. In spite of the seemingly official unwillingness to admit the magnitude of the problem, prostitution is deep-rooted in our communities.
While some of the teenagers are being lured into this depraved life, there are many women who willingly subject themselves to such indignity on the grounds that they want to make ends meet. Their predicament is being blamed on the worsening economic condition. As a result, they dive headlong into prostitution. This is an infantile dream, a hoax being perpetrated by vicious manipulators.
In truth, most of the filthy lucre being made in the global sex trade is being shared by the vicious criminal operators. In Britain, the Office for National Statistics’ computation in 2009 – the first time prostitution income was factored into the GDP – arrived at a figure of £5.3 billion a year. The latest figure from a research by Urban Institute, an American think tank, puts the number of prostitutes worldwide at 42 million. Urban says the global sex trade generates $186 billion, with criminals living large off the proceeds of a trade that is still an offence in many parts of the world. According to TheRichest.com, prostitution is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the United States for criminal gangs.
NAPTIP is making slow strides. It has to make examples of suspects by prosecuting them and deterring others. For instance, a new law in France imposes a fine of $4,000 on those soliciting sex from prostitutes. In some jurisdictions, prostitution is punishable by a fine, and it is said to be illegal in 109 countries. However, the law alone cannot tackle the scourge. The internet age has even made it more difficult for the law to achieve its aim. Instead of walking the streets in search of customers, sex workers now use online media to negotiate with clients. This way, they evade the long arm of the law.
To redress the dilemma, several countries are adopting the Nordic Model, which was pioneered by Sweden in 1999. The model makes it a crime for the buyer of sex only, not the seller. Iceland, Canada, Norway and Northern Ireland are in this category, while prostitution is highly-regulated in The Netherlands, Poland and Austria. In Switzerland, sex workers must register, undergo mandatory weekly health check-ups and obtain a certificate.
Our government has to do more to sensitise the populace about the dangers of prostitution. We need to put our girls in school and establish programmes that can wean them off the streets. The state governments concerned should establish their own anti-human trafficking agencies, while NGOs should join the crusade in earnest through incentives and well-defined programmes.