Immediate past Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah Donli, is currently the Chairman Board of Trustees, United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. She : has remained loved and admired even after leaving office because of her openness, attentiveness and willingness to attend to every issue brought to her especially those that affect girls and women. She spoke about her early life and career in this interview. Excerpts:
Could you tell us about your family background and early life?
I was born on December 30 1966 to the family of naval commander and Mrs Okah. I have nine siblings and my parents ensured that we had the best of everything that they could afford. I lost my mother to kidney failure when I was 18 years old. She was a young and supportive wife who died in her early forties. Her death left a great vacuum in the family but my dad stepped into her shoes and combined the fatherly and motherly role well.
I had my secondary education in a girl’s school and then proceeded to Zaria where I had my higher institution studies. As a teenager, I read many books that piqued my interest on the issues of gender discrimination and social vices in the society. This interest fueled my active participation in literary clubs and associations that aligned with my vision of contributing my quota to the development of the society. Growing up in a typical African society, I saw how some families treated the girl child as though she was inferior to the male child. I saw women with great potentials fading away and relegated to the background because their husbands would not allow them work. I couldn’t help but appreciate my father for giving all his children equal opportunities. At that tender age, I could see that children from families such as mine had a better self-esteem and excelled academically compared to children from families where daughters and wives were constantly being bashed and underappreciated. I made a resolve then to perform excellently well in my career and subsequently help pave the way for girls and women to reach out for the sky which is where we all belong.
You are the founder of the Julie Donli Kidney Foundation, an NGO that supports people with kidney disease, what led to this?
I lost my mother at the age of 18 to kidney failure. She was in her forties and was so full of life and vitality. Her loss created a terrible vacuum not just in the family but also in my heart. Even though we did all we could go save her life, I felt bad that she had to die that way and felt that if we had been proactive enough and had done things differently, she may have still been alive. It was a long journey that started in 1981 when she was diagnosed with acute renal failure. She was the first dialysis patient at the Lagos University Teaching hospital.
My brother, Charles Okah who was just 20 years old then donated one of his kidneys to her. She underwent a kidney transplant in Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai. Her body rejected the kidney even though it was a perfect match and she had to resume dialysis. She died on 15th February, 1984. This terrible and painful experience left an indelible impression on the family’s memory, leading to the establishment of 15 dialysis centers in major teaching hospitals in Nigeria by my brother, Charles and this subsequently gave birth to the Julie Donli Kidney Foundation which has the principal mandate of creating kidney health awareness and assisting indigent patients get aid for kidney disease and treatment.
As NAPTIP DG, what were the challenges you faced doing your work especially from traffickers?
Confronting evil everywhere comes with its challenges and in this case, fighting trafficking isn’t an exception. As the director general of NAPTIP, we experienced challenges such as inadequate funding as well as other technical and bureaucratic challenges.
Traffickers also fought back tooth and nail by coming up with various new trends to get us off their track but we were resolute and this paid off as recorded in the outstanding successes I achieved during my tenure.
What was the hardest trafficking case you handled?
We had so many difficult cases to tackle at NAPTIP but taking out one out of these cases and labelling it hardest is not feasible because all cases are equally heart wrenching and painful. One of those cases was when we had young girls trapped in various countries and reaching out to them was quite difficult because of some of the challenges I talked about above. As if the challenges experienced in bringing them back into the country was not enough, my heart broke into a thousand pieces when I heard stories of their experiences outside the shores of Nigeria. Some of the victims had all sorts of physical injuries including cuts and broken bones and joints. Some were forced to eat feaces and engage in all sorts of dehumanizing and unprintable experiences that I would rather not spoil your day with. I picked this as the hardest experience because it was very emotionally demanding for me and I had to struggle to keep tears off my eyes when I had a one on one interview with the victims.
Tell us about your new role as the Chairman Board of Trustees UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons
The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund is saddled with the responsibility of providing essential services and direct assistance to victims of human trafficking worldwide. My role as the chairman of the board of trustees is to come up with strategies to grow the trust fund in other to assist more Victims of trafficking especially women and children , UNVTF offers me a global platform to do what I have always loved to do which is providing humanitarian, financial and legal aid to victims of trafficking in persons
Also tell us about the NGO you are planning to launch and why, since you already have one
My Foundation which would be launched soon is committed to preventing all forms of human trafficking and Sexual and Gender Based Violence through massive awareness campaigns collaboration and cooperation between all relevant stakeholders so as to liberate and uplift the vulnerable, especially women and children in exploitative conditions through, massive awareness campaigns, access to justice, medical and humanitarian aid and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
It is obvious from the above that the mission of my soon to be launched Foundation is clearly different from that of my kidney Foundation. My Foundation is inspired by my experiences at NAPTIP and the need to continue to support the government in its fights against human trafficking and sexual and gender based violence. As the DG of NAPTIP, I championed the call for private individuals and corporate organisations to synergize with the government in fighting this scourge. My Foundation therefore, is me practicing what I preach, irrespective of any hindrances.
The menace of child abuse appears not to be abating. What is your take on this?
Child abuse is one scourge that is still eating deeply into the fibre of the society and for me, whether in active public service or not, the passion remains ever strong. Child abuse or child maltreatment is any intentional physical, domestic, sexual, psychological and mental maltreatment of any human below the age of eighteen. Child abuse knows no colour or race or religion, it cuts across different spheres of the country. The upper class who employ the services of underaged children as house helps are guilty, so also is the middle class who serve as the agents that bridge the gap between the upper class and the lower class. The lower class are also guilty because as parents, they falter in their responsibilities to their children which explains why they are ever ready to send out their kids to the streets to hawk and to serve as domestic servants.
How well do you think the country has done in its war against child abuse?
So much has been achieved in tackling the menace of child abuse in the country but unfortunately, the storm still rages on. Littered through almost all the streets and major roads in Nigeria are children who have no choice but to leave their innocence behind and beg for their daily bread because their parents have more children than they can afford to cater for. As if it is not just enough to go out there under the sun or rain to fend for yourself at such a very tender age, some of these children have masters who take away all proceeds of the day from them in exchange for dilapidated shelters and all sorts of poor living conditions.
The issue of child labour is one fundamental aspect of child abuse in Nigeria. Research has shown that 7 out of 10 homes have at some points in their existence employed the services of child domestic help. Most people have this impression that because the child in their custody is the son or daughter of a relation, it cannot be interpreted as child abuse. But like I would always say, when you in any way subject even your own biological child(ren) to any sort of dehumanizing condition, it is child abuse. Notwithstanding the fact that you are the biological parent of the child doesn’t make it less of an offence.
Has the mode of operations of child abusers remained the same all along or has it in any way changed?
In recent times, the menace of child abuse has experienced a dramatic shift in its mode of operation. People are no longer satisfied with turning innocent children into domestic slaves, they have degenerated into using them as sex slaves and even porn stars. The most saddening part of this is that in many cases, pedophiles are people who often share blood ties with their victims. You see fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, nephews, cousins, drivers, etc who ought to serve as knights in shining amour to protect their ward turn to the beast that defile these innocent ones. By this unholy and highly condemnable act, children are exposed to all sorts of health challenges as well as mental and psychological disorders. My heart broke into a million pieces when I read the story of a few months old who had to undergo a corrective surgery on her vagina because she was raped by a man old enough to be her father.
Another worrisome trend in Nigeria is child trafficking with all its attendant consequences. In this situation, young boys and girls below the ages of 18 are trafficked out of the country to strange lands exposing them to all sorts of harm and danger on the road. Most of these children often travel unaccompanied and are exposed to all sorts of harsh weather conditions on the road, pneumonia, cholera, malnutrition and some are sexually molested and left to die of starvation and diseases when the journey gets tough. The implication of this is that the country continues to lose some of its brightest minds and future leaders.
What are the implications of child abuse for the society?
There are several implications of child abuse and these implications form the basis of some of the moral and security challenges we are confronted with in Nigeria today. When we have children who have been physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally battered, they grow into suicidal, depressed and unproductive adults who constitute nuisances to themselves and the society. Today, we have children all over the street who demand for alms for adults in the most embarrassing manner. Some of these children end up in the wrong company and they are converted into pick pockets, suicide bombers, drug addicts, etc.
A nation which takes for granted the wellbeing of children and youth is actually setting itself up for failure and this is the reason why we must not relent in tackling this menace.
How well would you say you did as director general of NAPTIP?
As we all know, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons is the government agency saddled with the responsibility of tackling the scourge of human trafficking and other related offences in Nigeria and I am bold to say that during my time as the director general of NAPTIP, we did surpass expectations and previous achievements. In summary, as at December 2020, NAPTIP has about 6, 221 reported cases, 3, 658 investigated cases, 5, 421 traffickers have been arrested, 304 number of successful prosecutions, 368 number of convicted persons as well as 13, 555 rescued victims as at 2020.
As the director general, I championed a lot of anti-child abuse grassroots awareness campaigns on the social media, schools, markets, motor parks, places of worship, etc. We also took the campaign to different media houses including the TVC, NTA, AIT, etc.
Together with my team, we visited different states of the federation with our campaign on the need to stop all forms of child abuse against children and the need for children to be given access to free education as free and affordable education is the right of every child. Parents were also enlightened on the need to only have as many children as they can cater for as this will help in ensuring that children are not left to fend for themselves a few years after birth.
At NAPTIP, we also provided shelters for victims of abuse and human trafficking who had no accommodation. We understand that fighting such things as human trafficking and child abuse is all encompassing and so we ensured that we had adequate physical, emotional, psychological, emotional and legal support were always available and accessible.
Officially, my time as the director of general of NAPTIP ended in December 2020 but for me, the passion and zeal remains unquenched and so I shall continue to strive for an end to the scourge of child abuse not only in Nigeria but globally.
Quarantine-free travel to resume on 19 July for fully vaccinated passengers returning from amber list countries
The government has today (8 July 2021) set out the details to enable people who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine, plus 14 days, to travel to amber list countries without having to quarantine on their return to England, from Monday 19 July. The recommendation for people not to travel to amber list countries will also be removed from 19 July.
The changes will come into force from Monday 19 July at 4am. Those who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine in the UK and are returning from amber countries will still be required to complete a pre-departure test before arrival into England, alongside a PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival. They will not have to take a day 8 test or self-isolate. Any positive results will be genomically sequenced to continue to manage the risk from importing variants.
Children under the age of 18 will not have to isolate when returning to England. While the recommendation that people should not travel to amber countries is being removed, children aged 4 and under will continue to be exempt from any travel testing. Children aged 5 to 10 will only need to do a day 2 PCR and 11 to 18 year olds will need to take both a pre-departure test and a day 2 PCR – as is the case for arrivals from green list countries.
The success of our vaccine programme has been aided by those selflessly taking part in clinical trials and those who are part of approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the UK will therefore be treated as vaccinated.
At this stage, there will be no changes to requirements for those returning from green or red list countries – even when they are fully vaccinated, nor for unvaccinated passengers travelling from amber countries who do not have a valid exemption.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said:
Thanks to our successful vaccine rollout, we’re now able to widen quarantine-free travel to NHS administered fully vaccinated adults and children under the age of 18, and take another step towards fully reopening international travel.
As we continue with the domestic unlocking, it’s only right we get people travelling again – whether that’s for business to help create jobs, overdue holidays or reconnecting family and friends. However, protecting public health still remains our priority and we will act swiftly if action is needed.
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said:
Vaccinations have severely weakened the link between COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths, building a wall of protection across the country.
As we learn to live with this virus, due to the tremendous progress of the vaccine programme – with more than 3 in 5 people now double jabbed – we can safely take steps to ease restrictions on travel, as we are doing at home. Allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people means they can be reunited with loved ones overseas and we can return to normality as quickly as possible.
The government is taking a phased approach to amending requirements and is already exploring plans to remove quarantine for vaccinated non-UK residents arriving from amber countries later this summer where it is safe to do so. The Test to Release scheme scheme remains an option for non-fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber countries to shorten their quarantine period, by paying for a private test and being released early if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
Travel continues to be different from usual, and while some restrictions remain in place passengers should expect their experience to be different and may face longer wait times than they are used to – although the government is making every effort to speed up queues safely. We will continue to rollout e-gates over the summer, with many already in operation across airports and more to be added over the coming months.
Carriers will have a critical role in carrying out primary checks on all passengers before boarding, checking people have the right COVID-19 certification documents to ensure we can continue to safeguard against new variants. Anyone not complying with health measures could face a fine, and carriers will be required to ensure proper checks are carried out.
Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said:
This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening the sector has been looking for. Opening up the market for the rest of the summer, this announcement will provide far greater opportunities to travel, do business and see family and friends, and enable many more of our customers to book with certainty. The summer season essentially starts here.
Airlines look forward to working with government to continue this momentum and further open up the market.
All passengers will still need to complete their passenger locator form, which will include the requirement to declare vaccination status and provide proof of their pre-departure test. Amber arrivals will be required to prove their full vaccination status to carriers before departing, either via the NHS app or via an NHS COVID Pass letter which can be obtained by calling 119 for travelling overseas (which could take 5 days to arrive by post).
Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said:
This is a significant step forward that will be a boost to airports and the local economies that rely on them. Many airports staff will be able to get back to what they do best: supporting businesses to reach customers abroad, enabling people to visit friends and relatives and help people take a well-deserved holiday abroad after a difficult period.
If travelling abroad, you need to take steps to keep safe and prepare in case things change before you go or while you are there. Check the booking terms and conditions on flexibility and refunds because the situation remains fluid. Many travel firms have changed their terms to be fully flexible. Check and subscribe to FCDO travel advice updates to understand the latest entry requirements and COVID-19 rules at their destination – and passengers are advised to check all entry requirements and FCDO travel advice before they book any foreign travel.
IOM releases recommendations to the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has shared its recommendations on migration and mobility with the Slovenian government, which yesterday (01/07) assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) for the second half of 2021 as the world continues to adjust and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In three key recommendations, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the safe resumption of human mobility for economic and social recovery, advance holistic and coordinated responses to return migration and reintegration, and to factor safe and orderly migration into the EU’s green transition to a climate-neutral economy.
“The Slovenian government takes up the Presidency at a time when recovery from the pandemic is progressing but remains uneven, particularly for some countries and with some populations at greater risk of being left behind,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.
“At the same time, the EU is moving ahead with the European Green Deal while discussions on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum continue,” he said. “This is an opportune moment to factor migration into planning as a vital contributor to resilient economies, environment and public health in the EU, countries of origin and transit.”
IOM therefore encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the facilitated resumption of safe human mobility as we emerge from the pandemic to contribute to economic and social recovery in the EU and beyond. As part of this, the Presidency should prioritize digitalization in migration management to resume travel amid COVID-19 while promoting mutually beneficial labour mobility channels that protect migrant workers.
It will be equally important for the EU to ensure adequate and equitable access to health services and vaccination against COVID-19 for all migrants as well as migrant-inclusive policies that help to maximize their prospects for integration into communities and society. Measures to combat xenophobia and discrimination will be crucial to these efforts.
To ensure that intra-regional migration is safe, orderly and regular, IOM believes that the fight against human trafficking and migrants smuggling should integrate migrant protection and capacity building of border and law enforcement authorities in partner countries.
Return, readmission and reintegration are indispensable parts of a comprehensive approach to migration management for many governments worldwide. To be effective, IOM recommends the Slovenian Presidency to promote efforts to encourage balanced, comprehensive route-based responses which secure solid engagement and partnerships among all countries and actors involved. Coupling return with reintegration measures that respond to the needs of migrants and communities where they return can enhance the opportunities for sustainable development in countries of origin.
Under the Slovenian Presidency, the European Green Deal will continue to top the agenda. IOM is convinced that well-managed migration can support the transition to a climate-neutral economy. In line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and in view of the COP26, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the mainstreaming of migration – in all its forms – into the key policy areas and anticipated measures of the European Green Deal.
IOM stands ready to continue its support to the Presidency, the EU and its Member States to implement balanced, comprehensive policies and programmes across the entire migration spectrum and along entire migration routes.
Afghanistan: Addressing child labour through a protection response for undocumented returnees
Child labour is a priority protection concern in Afghanistan with some estimates showing that more than half of children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in work of some kind (AIHRC, 2018). Children in Afghanistan endure some of the worst forms of child labour from being recruited into the armed conflict, to the production of bricks and carpets, as well as in agriculture, mines, and most visibly on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners and porters/vendors.
High rates of poverty, insecurity, displacement, and natural disasters mean sending school-age children out to work is often essential to the survival of families, placing children across Afghanistan at significant risk.
The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for Afghanistan indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation further as loss of livelihoods, coupled with school closures to contain the spread of the virus, likely precipitated increases in child labour.
The economic downturn has seen poverty skyrocket in Afghanistan and, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost half the population is now in need of humanitarian support – 18.4 million people – , with 90 per cent of Afghans living below the poverty line (less than USD 2 a day). This poverty, coupled with the upsurge in insecurity since intra-Afghan peace talks began in September 2020, has seen unprecedented numbers of undocumented Afghan migrants crossing the border from Iran.
Between January-May 2021 alone, more than 490,000 Afghans returned – an increase of 65 per cent on the same period in 2020, of which more than half are deportees.
Undocumented returnees often return worse off than before they left, having sold property and assets or borrowed money in order to pay for their passage. 19 per cent of returnees surveyed in a Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (2020) were found to have taken on catastrophic levels of debt predominantly to cover food and healthcare needs.
The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Protection Monitoring data shows that undocumented returnees increasingly turned to child labour to support their households during the course of the last year (from 19% reported in May-July 2020 to 35% in January 2021). This presents a key protection risk for children – exposing them to physical, sexual and economic exploitation including trafficking, and putting their physical, psychological and emotional development at stake. It constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights and compromises their ability to reach their full potential.
Like many fathers across the country, Noorullah* (40) took the tough decision to go abroad for work when he couldn’t make ends meet. For two years, he worked in Iran as a casual labourer in agriculture, picking fruit and sending remittances home to support his family of seven.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Noorullah was deported for not having any legal documentation at a time when lockdowns and movement restrictions meant finding work in Afghanistan was harder than ever. For 11 months, the family survived on casual labour and the charity of neighbours, living in a damaged house without windows or a door, with no electricity or heating source. The one small solar light they had was stolen by robbers.
The casual farm work he had managed to pick up dried up when winter started, and the family slipped more and more into debt, borrowing from neighbours and using credit to get food from the shop.
To cope with this dire situation, Noorullah resorted to taking his children out of school. His teenage son was sent to work as a live-in servant for another household, and his two younger sons started to beg on the streets, collecting plastic and wood to meet the household’s heating and cooking needs.
The boys had previously been enrolled in the local government school but were forced to stop, joining some 3.7 million (48% of boys and 59% of girls) of all school-age children across Afghanistan who are estimated to be out of school – returnee and internally displaced children even worse off with 55 per cent of boys and 67 per cent of girls out of school (Afghanistan HNO, 2021).
To address protection risks faced by undocumented returnees, IOM’s Protection Programme works in provinces of high returns and opened a new office in Noorullah’s home province of Badakhshan in January 2021. Having received IOM assistance at the border, Noorullah approached the office for support and the Protection Programme caseworker visited him at his home to discuss his situation in depth and draw an action plan that would allow the family to re-enrol the children in school.
To mitigate the protection risks faced by Noorullah and his family, including child labour, the caseworker provided cash assistance enabling them to buy some essentials for their home – a buhari [a traditional wood-fired heater] and fuel for heating, a solar lamp for lighting the home – and enough to pay back their debts. Together with his wife, Noorullah bought enough flour so they could start a small bakery in their home.
“We started our bakery and, with the support from IOM, we can rent a house in the future and possibly extend our business, so we have income and are able to save for any future needs,” said Bahar*, Noorullah’s wife.
By reducing the economic vulnerability of the household, the protection risks associated with child labour and diversion from education were averted.
The support provided by IOM enabled Noorullah and Bahar to send their children back to school, helping to secure their futures. The two youngest boys stopped begging, and Noorullah brought his eldest son back to live with the family.
The parents are relieved that they can support their children’s education and provide them with a good life thanks to the income of their cottage bakery: “I was exhausted; really sick and tired of doing daily wage jobs. Now I’m self-employed, running a bakery and starting a grocery business which was a dream that has turned into a reality, thanks to IOM’s Protection Programme.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous in a multitude of ways, and in a country where educational needs are exceptionally high, the eradication of child labour remains a key priority for Afghans of all ages. By providing comprehensive assistance to undocumented returnees’ households, IOM aims to build their resilience and reduce the likelihood of child labour amongst some of the most vulnerable communities.
* Not their real names.
IOM Afghanistan is supporting undocumented returnees to access vital protection services thanks to EU Humanitarian Aid.
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