KANO, Nigeria (AFP) — The trafficking of teenage girls from poor villages to northern Nigerian cities to work as domestic help for meagre wages is on the rise, officials said at the weekend.
"The business of recruiting teenagers as domestic help is booming despite our efforts to put a stop to it," said Bello Ahmed, head of the Kano office of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), in charge of 18 northern and central states.
The girls, usually between the ages of 12 and 17, are paid around 1,500 naira (13 dollars, eight euros) a month, money that they send to their parents, Ahmed told AFP.
However meagre the wage, for the parents it means a little more cash and one mouth fewer to feed.
Ahmed said NAPTIP has succeeded in putting a stop to the practice of ferrying the house girls into the cities in trucks "like chickens".
But if transport methods have improved somewhat, the trafficking continues.
"In fact it's on the rise. The more the law enforcement agencies perfect strategies to stop it, the more the traffickers find sophisticated ways of running their trade," said Mairo Bello, head of Adolescent Health Information Project, a Kano-based NGO.
Some of the teenage workers are raped or beaten by their employers and NAPTIP keeps a dormitory for such girls.
"We now have two girls in our custody who were raped by their masters, one of them four-month pregnant and another one that had ground chilli pepper poured into her private parts by her mistress for not washing a plate well," Ahmed said.
Lack of state-level legislation to prosecute traffickers makes NAPTIP unable to take legal action against them, meaning the best it can do is monitor their activities to keep them in check, according to Ahmed.
The UN-sponsored Child Rights Act provides for five years in jail and a 424-dollar fine on perpetrators of child labour.
The act has been endorsed by the Nigerian federal government but not as yet by the predominantly Muslim northern state legislatures because it contains clauses which many northerners see as going against their religious and cultural values.
"We are disturbed by this trend of using teenagers as domestic helps which is a form of child labour and we are aware there is a provision in the Child Rights Act that deals with that issue," Abdulaziz Garba Gafasa, speaker for the Kano legislature, told AFP.
But he said the legislature would only be able to endorse the act if some clauses are expunged. Failing that, he said Kano plans to introduce measures at the state level to deal with the trafficking issue.
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