The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria has launched a nationwide interfaith network to help different stakeholders allay the impact of irregular migration and human trafficking in Africa's most populous country.
The church's Archbishop Dr. Panti Musa Filibus launched the Symbols of Hope Returnees Network at a public symposium on 31 July, held around events marking the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
"Human beings are not for sale," said Musa.
He appealed to the government, non-governmental actors and other development agencies to join efforts in "developing economies that create legitimate jobs" and "empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams."
According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, Nigeria remains a source of transit and destination country for human trafficking. It is ranked at position 32 out of 167, with more than 1.3 million people categorized as persons living in bondage.
Addressing the symposium, Musa, who is President of The Lutheran World Federation noted that the Lutheran church he heads in Nigeria and the LWF started the SOH project in 2017.
Musa reiterated a commitment made at the LWF's Assembly in 2017 that "'human beings are not for sale.'"
He said concerted effort to dismantle human trafficking networks in Nigeria must include assistance to the victims and urgently address the "underlying forces that push many people into bondage."
The network aims to help stem irregular immigration within and outside the country. Extreme poverty and internal conflict are cited as key factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking in Nigeria.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons states that 75 percent of human trafficking occurs across Nigeria's federal states, 23 percent within states, and two percent outside the country.
Most of the victims are young women.
Participants in the event included pastors and diaconal workers from local Lutheran congregations, representatives of other Christian and Muslim bodies, officials from the government's anti-human trafficking and police units and civil society organizations.
Benin City is considered as the epicenter of irregular migration and human trafficking in the West African country.
Human Rights Watch's Agnes Odhiambo and Heather Barr wrote an opinion piece in Al Jazeera recently in which they reminded of northern Nigeria's nearly decade-long conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and government forces
"The armed group abducts women and girls and forces them to marry its members, confining them to a life of domestic servitude, forced labour and sex slavery," wrote Odhiambo and Barr.
They said that stopping trafficking of women and girls, and providing victims with the right protection and services, seems to be a low priority for many governments.
"Effective responses to cross-border trafficking demand effective international cooperation by both law enforcement and service providers, and many governments fail at this," they said.
They are immobilized by coordination challenges, logistical difficulties, language barriers, political dynamics, corruption and apathy about violence against women.
"During armed conflicts, when resources are thinly stretched and humanitarian needs are many, trafficking survivors are often left out of the scope of available assistance," said the Human Rights Watch officials.
They explained that life is extremely hard for trafficking survivors.
"Women and girls who escape abuse return home to the same desperate circumstances that made them vulnerable in the first place, but now bearing additional burdens. They frequently face stigma or are blamed for coming home penniless.
"They have often experienced devastating physical injuries, and mental trauma that can haunt them forever," they said.