(A Paper Presented at 2013 Ebonyi Annual Women Assembly at Women Development Centre Abakaliki, This Day July 30, 2013)



Not without a touch of irony, the fight to liberate Ebonyi man, restructure his psychological profile and instill in him a sense of pride has been long, passionate and arduous. Child trafficking which according to UNICEF is ‘any person under 18 who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured for the purpose of exploitation’ is just one out of many roadblocks on the destiny road of Ebonyi child. Prior to the creation of Ebonyi, the state was home where house helps, kids, street hawkers, labourers and street beggars were produced and exported to end users.


Seventeen years after, a twist has occurred. The paradigm is shifting. We have moved in amazing short time to desire what others do, to think great. Without ruffled feathers, collective mindset of Ebonyi child is responding to the new spirit rising in the state. Government’s remedial mission to salvage Ebonyi corporate image is also obvious in the education policies designed to bring Ebonyi child into socio-economic equation of the nation. There is free and compulsory education in both primary and secondary levels for Ebonyi children long before UBE program was initiated; the pilot school system of Chief Martin Elechi-led government is designed to reinforce and widen opportunities. These approaches might have been criticized but their good results are overwhelming.


The Office of Her Excellency has remained a vanguard of hope for vulnerable persons. Its zeal to restore the dignity of Ebonyi mother and child is a fact well understood. Chief Mrs. Josephine N. Elechi for one has taken her fight to the doorposts of Ebonyi families culminating in her founding of the Mother and Child Care Initiative (MCCI) which has received a legislative blessing by an act of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to become a government agency. The hydra-headed strategies of the agency have been integrated in such a way that a synergy has been created with relevant government interventions at state and local government levels, private sector, NGOs, development partners and others. The Child Right Acts has been amended to meet contemporary realities. The National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) has consistently mounted an all-out war against child trafficking and child labour in the state.


No doubt, these efforts have not been in vain; the tide has been turning. We do not need Whig interpretation of history, in the notion of perpetual progress towards ever greater freedom to feel that some grounds have been gained between AD 1999 and 2013. Ebonyi child now dines and wines with future kings. There is children parliament. Ebonyi child is more hopeful than he was decades ago. Ebonyi child now competes with his counterpart in school debates at world level. The appetite for education has credibly increased. These good indicators are subject to data and analysis.



The success story notwithstanding, if the statistics from NAPTIP that Ebonyi state accounts for 75 per cent of the entire victims of child trafficking and child labour from the South-East is anything to go by, the state is nowhere to its destination. That is why the road ahead is so crucial and the choice of this theme timely strategic.


After I got invitation to speak to this audience 11 days ago, I instinctually drove out to see if I could pick up signs of the menace on the streets. Just a minute off my house by Spera in Deo Junction, I saw a little girl of eight lay asleep on a pavement by the corner of the road with a tray of boiled cassava chips (abacha) by her side. Dressed in worn-out denim skirt and a dark blue cardigan wrapped over a faded print blouse clothes and with no slippers on her feet, one could easily mistake her for a destitute. But Nwibo (not real name) is not a destitute. Rather, she had been compelled by economic duress to hawk wares while the rest of her mates study in schools. Pulling up by the roadside to examine her closely, she got up looking tired. She held herself painfully erect and stared ahead, eyes brooding and hooded. Asking to know if she was sick, she shyly turned her back and pulled down the edge of the sweater from the smooth dark skin of her neck, revealing why she held herself so sternly stiff. I saw two wide, ugly corrugated-looking wounds, still fresh, slash their ways across the velvet skin, cutting deep into muscle and nerves, leaving her temporarily unable to turn her fine-boned head.


Her parents she told me are Agbaja Unuphu refugees. The story is complicated. But one thing is certain. Little Nwibo is exposed to all sorts of dangers. She could be knocked down by a car, kidnapped by ritualists, raped or may not survive the wound. I hung up my head in shame as I left Adam’s daughter almost raped of humanness. I could not comprehend what Nwibo was feeling. Is it a grief, or trauma or simply hopelessness? I was horrified but not surprised after all, not long ago a woman came to me with her seven-year-old daughter as collateral to borrow money and foot her hospital bill. She pleaded that I take the girl or sell her if I want just for N89, 570.


This is not a time to get involved in statistical disputatio with NAPTIP since reaction to indicting issues is naturally defensive. We do not need to trade blames because our neighbours feel the ripples of child trafficking and labour from our state neither can we deny its overwhelming evidence around us. During a Thank-You-Tour and sensitization programme on the National Health Insurance Scheme at Ntezi-Ishielu in May 2013, Her Excellency, Chief Mrs. Josephine Elechi raised alarm over the increasing rate of child rape, child labour and trafficking and other forms of maltreatment against children. She noted with dismay that despite series of campaigns embarked upon by her office through the MCCI, such acts are still prevalent in the state, especially at the rural level.


However, we need not be discouraged, disheartened by the persistence of what we resist. To be sure, child trafficking and child labour is an English term. The menace is an endemic social problem with global dimension. Though the covert and criminal nature of the practice makes statistics difficult, it is not impossible. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. The recent statistics released by NAPTIP shows that no few than 8million Nigeria children are engaged in exploitative labour. The Federal Ministry of Education estimated that about 12 million Nigerian children are currently out of school. According to the 2010 Nigeria Education Survey and Digest of Education Statistics (NEDS) report witnessed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, 21% of children of ages 5-16 cannot read at all in the South-west compared to 31% in the South-south, 32% in the south-east, 58% in the North-central, 72% in the North-west and 83% in the North-east.


This means that most of these children would end up, as maids and houseboys to other families where they would be exploited and rendered virtually useless to themselves and to their society. Some may end up deformed; others with stunted growth and psychological trauma. Across the country, security operatives are uncovering baby booming factories where children are ‘produced’ and sold out to interested buyers like mere goods or goats to be slaughtered.


Ebonyi has consolation to take home. We don’t have baby factories in the state. Organized child prostitution is rare. We are only identified with house help syndrome, exportation of domestic labour, street beggars, hawking, forced labour and marriages. This does not in any way infer that we are better off but to buttress the fact that violence against children has world-wide domestication.


3.0       DANGERS AHEAD!

We fight child trafficking and labour not to envy the record of other states or be in the good book of international agencies. This is not about scoring a statistical point and win commendation. The worry is that our future is irrevocably sealed as long as any Ebonyi child is kept outside socio-economic equation.


If children are future leaders, it means that Ebonyi future can be found on prettily grim hope of Nwibo’s recovery, overcoming the deprivation and psychological trauma to compete favourably with her mates at schools who are churned out into informed and educated citizenry. The future of Ebonyi is on the streets, rice mills, quarries, starving and worn out. Our future leaders are the child hawkers who sell every conceivable article from sachets of pure water, gala sausage rolls, lacasera to just about everything including recharge cards and roasted cashew, yams and corns. The economically crucified beggars, who are too poor to trade in commodities, who lie in wait at traffic intersections for unsuspecting motorists upon whom they press their windscreen for alms constitute our valuable human resources. Those psycho-socially dislocated hawkers are our potential administrators and technocrats.


Child trafficking and child labour impairs growth, defiles potential and sterilizes manpower to drive development. No society expects future from class of citizens who are laden with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The kid twins Bobi and Kossia who were married off to Mobutu Sese Seko might have benefited from the arrangement; but it is difficult to know how they felt psychologically as women, sisters and rivals. These survivors of these extremely harsh realities of life develop fangs diametrically opposed to polished way of life. They become deviants to the law and unmalleable to the society. There are several cases involving girls as young as ten who are sexually active and who trade in sexual favours for money alongside whatever commodities they are peddling. The consequences of these acts include unwanted pregnancies, illegal and unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases and psychological trauma.



Yes, we can no longer deny our duty to save Ebonyi children because violence against children is still real, serious and many. If we have fought so hard to achieve so little, we need to re-examine our strategies; we need to change tactics. There are, therefore, two routes to salvage Ebonyi children and plot downfall of violence against them. The first is the imperative of looking inwards and the second is the imperative of looking outwards.


4.1       The imperative of looking Inwards

Resistance to anything is like trying to change the outside picture after they have been transmitted. It is a futile pursuit. The answer is to go within and emit a new signal with thought and feelings to create a new picture. Inwardly, we need to take stock, to cross-examine ourselves because those who live in glass houses do not throw stones. Liberation is earned through collective sacrifice. It does not come when we retain bad habits. It goes to those who prefer future over selfish leisure. We have to rise above narrow interest, above looking for scapegoats in problem starring us squarely in the face. Our problem is not government. Time has come for us to take a hard look at ourselves and do some homework.


Ironically, only a redefinition of child trafficking can exonerate all of us here as traffickers. If charity begins at home, saving Ebonyi children must begin with women here examining what they left behind at homes to attend this occasion. If some Ebonyi homes were to speak, I can imagine the tales they will tell- children used as men and men used as machines in domestic servitude. Under economic duress we inherit maids from poor relatives, friends, neighbours, etc. and convert them as house equipment for baby nursing, cooking, cleaning, washing, name them. Some who want to be Christians enroll these children for evening lessons and send their own wards to Seminaries, Hope Highs, etc. for good education.


Next, we preach against child trafficking and labour but we patronize businesses run by trafficked children; we prefer cheap labour and services they provide at our building sites and in our shops where we use them as sales persons. At times, we withhold their wages and force them to work extra hours to satisfy us before we pay them. We talk to these children as if they were slaves we have made them to be.


Inwardly also, every Ebonyi mother especially widows should resolve to close factory that produces vulnerable children. The way Ebonyi mothers reproduce calls for caution. Family planning is not an option but a necessity. Our mothers must not imitate bees in breeding nor must every egg in their womb be hatched. Our family must not be apostolic before we stop giving birth. Children are assets if only they are trained. We must adopt the slogan- ‘it is not how many you can produce, but how many you can train’


Surprisingly, the practice of giving child beggars money has to be reviewed. Though well intentioned, it makes the practice more profitable for the child’s abuser. At the temple gate a beggar asked for money but Peter and John offered him healing instead. Some are happy being the invalid of the society as long as it can attract profitable sympathizers. Embarking always on pity-motivated short term humanitarianism is to fulfill worst fears.


Above all, Ebonyi culture has to reform bad tradition. We have moral duty to crush the stereotypes that have burdened and weighed down our women and children in decision making. We have to re-emphasize girl-child education and discourage teenage pregnancy. Mothers need to rise up as the moral conscience of the family in order to inculcate the virtues of hard work, discipline and good conduct. This will go a long way in ridding the society of street begging, hawking, delinquency and moral decay that create conditions that make human trafficking and child labour thrive.


4.2       The Imperative of Looking Outwards

Jesus told Peter that only when he is strengthened would he strengthen others. From the vantage point of self righteousness we are to look out to government and wider humanity for answers, otherwise, it will be a case of a rotten tooth chewing with caution.


Outwardly, government has to rise up to strengthen systems and institutions that discourage disabling of mother and child. This calls for aggressive education. The question government should ask in designing education policy for Ebonyi child is ‘whether a policy gives average Ebonyi child quality skills, offers future that is decent and dignified and equips him to compete with his counterparts?’ Where the answer is yes, Ebonyi should move to adopt. Where the answer is no, programs should end and proactive ones enthroned.


The FG UBE program has proved itself ineffectual owing largely to poorly motivated teachers and ineffective supervision. Nigerians including educational policy makers have no confidence in public schools. How many of our stakeholders still line their wards in public schools? Our future is no longer there. The pedagogy is wrong. The teachers may be trained but very poorly and so, they produce poor results. With no basic infrastructure for effective teaching and learning, the products of public schools are not just unemployed but unemployable. The chunk of globally rated Gov Elechi Debate Team does not come from public schools. They are from mission schools. And how many Ebonyi families can afford to keep their wards in mission schools?


Everybody must not go to school. Alternative to education has to be provided, equipped and regularly funded. The current skills acquisition centres littered in development centres can be better harnessed if political advantage is removed from them. The centres should develop in Ebonyi child practical skills, provide victims like Nwibo with individualized and supportive physical and psychological rehabilitation. The idea of arresting hawkers on the streets and locking them up without showing them alternatives amounts to double victimization.


Above all, without tough legislations against violence against children in the state, nothing will work. Child Right Acts demands periodic amendment to met stiff punishments to offenders. The definition of offender should be broadened to incorporate exploiter-person and exploiter-system. Prosecution should be able to provide framework that will remove children from trafficking situation by outlawing a system that breeds vulnerable children.  Such legislation must be vigilant at the three steps of trafficking: recruitment, movement, and/or exploitation. The recent decision by the National Assembly to prescribe a minimum of 10 years imprisonment for person convicted of child trafficking is commendable.


5.0       I SEE HOPE!

Good news! Ebonyi man is revered for his resilience. What is required is harnessing our potentials. We should no longer play the fabled fine pugilist who wastes his punches in the boxing ring. We should learn to deliver it when, where and how it matters. Ebonyi is a virgin land for investment. We have abundant mineral resources and our land is no less fertile. Our minds are no less inventive, nor our goods and services less needed. Our capacity to greatness remains undiminished. But, for Ebonyi children to walk close to that greatness there must be a joint responsibility of citizens and government. Those who drive government dreams must be sincere, reform bad habit and conduct transparent businesses. This will enable Ebonyi government develop resilience and extend opportunity at all times to every willing Ebonyi child, not out of charity but because it is the surest route to common good.


What is therefore required of everyone is a new era of responsibility- recognition on the part of all that we have duties to Ebonyi children, ourselves and our future; duties we are to seize gladly rather than accept grudgingly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so dignifying of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price that can nurture the future of Ebonyi child and decide his fate. Congratulations Ebonyians! I see hope!