In 2016, the estimates of modern slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for approximately 13.6 percent of the world's total enslaved population. As evident from surveys conducted in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia by Walk Free Foundation, slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa takes the form of forced labour and forced marriage. In Ghana, survey results suggest that there are an estimated 103,300 people enslaved in that country, of which 85 percent are in forced labour, and 15 percent are in forced marriage. For forced labour, the main industries of concern are farming and fishing, retail sales and then manual labour and factory work. In Nigeria, survey results suggest that forced labour is predominantly within the domestic sector, although it was impossible to survey in three regions due to high conflict. In South Africa, the industries most reported in the survey include the commercial sex industry, manual labour industries such as construction, manufacturing and factory work, and drug trafficking.
Charlotte travelled from Croydon to Nigeria in 2014 to work as a tutor. However, once she arrived in Lagos her passport was confiscated, and she was prevented from leaving the house. Charlotte was able to return home after her parents rang her employers day and night, pressuring them to let her come home. When she arrived home, Charlotte became a member of the Croydon Community Against Trafficking in order to educate people on the nature of human trafficking.
I am a member of the Croydon Community Against Trafficking, supporting its work helping victims of the international trade in people. Modern slavery happens in Croydon and affects people in Croydon, not just those from other parts of the world who come here, but also British nationals. I would like to see increased awareness of this.
I also have a very personal reason for belonging to CCAT: my own frightening experience of human trafficking.
In 2014 I travelled from Croydon to Nigeria to take up a post as a tutor, something I initially saw as an exciting opportunity to live abroad and gain experience working in an educational role with children. I was happy to be offered the job, but once I arrived in my wealthy employers’ home in Lagos, I quickly became worried by the situation I found there.
During my first day, I noticed an unkempt housemaid who worked long hours and didn’t speak either much English or the local Nigerian language, Yoruba. We shared a name and I was immediately endeared to her. One of my employers told me that she paid not the housemaid herself, but the girl’s aunt who lived in Ghana and who she suspected was her ‘trafficker’. While this news worried me, I was not aware of the true meaning of trafficking at the time. But the housemaid’s mistreatment quickly became more apparent.
My employers told me stories of beating her and punishing her when they suspected household items had gone missing. She was very timid and malnourished. Her living arrangements were hidden from me but I once found her curled up asleep on the floor in one of the living rooms downstairs. However, I could hear her sweeping and cleaning from the early hours of the morning.
It was made apparent that my own civil rights were not going to be upheld when I was repeatedly asked by my employers to give them my passport. I had been instructed by the Nigerian embassy in London before travelling not to give my passport to anyone. However, a few hours after my arrival I was visited by two armed security guards who came to ‘collect my passport’ when I was at the house alone. I complied.
I was left to eat alone every evening and could only leave the house under the instruction of my hosts. I was repeatedly told that if I went out alone I could put the child I was responsible for at risk and as his well-being was paramount I could only go where they needed me to go, when they needed me to go there.
UK legislation defines people smuggling as ‘the procurement, to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national’. Although I was not aware how I was to be exploited, it became apparent that I had been smuggled. I had left England with no job and no money. I hadn’t taken a copy of my travel documents and did not speak the local language.
I called home and my family put pressure on my employers by ringing them throughout the day and night. I told my family where I was staying and relatives prepared to come to Nigeria to get me. That evening, I was summoned to a meeting with my employers who told me I was a nuisance. At six o’clock the next morning I was told a car was ready to take me to the airport. On leaving, I was handed my defaced passport. Airport officials said they would have refused to let me travel had my passport been Nigerian because of the condition it was in.
When I returned home to Croydon, I joined CCAT so that I could make others aware of the realities of human trafficking and smuggling. I want to let people know that trafficking does not only affect refugees or migrants, but British nationals such as myself. While not all the CCAT volunteers share my story, many empathise, and have experienced or encountered victims of human trafficking. All are advocates of eradicating human trafficking.
Narrative originally published by The Croydon Citizen