C.M.A. Olatoregun

Rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of human trafficking


At this Summit last year, I had the privilege to speak on the topic of Human Trafficking and Organized Crime: An Epidemic in Plain Sight. By way of refreshing our memory, I will briefly highlight some salient points from that topic of discourse.

I described human trafficking as the practice of illegally transporting human beings from one country or area to another typically for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. I mentioned the fact that more than 14 million people are trafficked for labour, according to Forbes, and the number keeps increasing daily. I spoke about the Nigerian experience as it relates to trafficking of women and children; the fact of forcibly recruiting and subjecting them to domestic servitude, forced labour and sex slavery. How the Nigerian Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are working effortlessly and collaborating with Non-Governmental organizations to curb this menace.

At this Summit I will be speaking on the topic of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Victims of Human Trafficking as a follow-up to our discourse last year. It is a notorious fact that human trafficking, also often referred to as modern slavery, is one of the biggest crimes in modern times. Today, the number of victims of human trafficking in the world according to Forbes is about 40,000,000. This means there are about 40,000,000 million people in the world that are victims of human trafficking or, to make their situation more comprehensible, modern slaves. Many of these victims are transported across borders and are made fully dependent on the criminals, which makes it very hard for them to escape. These criminals make millions of dollars each year from human trafficking and organized crime.

The number keeps growing. Victims sometimes end in a totally different country where they can’t even speak their language. In the hope that some victims will be saved at some point in the future, Rehabilitation after this traumatic event and Reintegration must occur.

The focus is what happens after the rescue? Reintegration into society is sometimes difficult. The victims will need help. Rehabilitation and Reintegration of victims should therefore be an important component of this Summit.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

Rehabilitation enables the victim to live with their past while Reintegration enables the victim to fit into society and live a normal life. For example, the victim gets a job, makes friends, etc. Both the process of rehabilitation and reintegration need to go hand in hand. Though it is unlikely that the victim will ever forget the experience, he or she can rise above the traumatic experience and move on without having to think about it each day. Without help, there is a high level of probability that they will find it difficult to re-enter society and live without the fear or feeling of inadequacy.

It is most pertinent to state that rehabilitation is not an event, it is more of a process which will take some time. Once a victim has been identified and secured they should immediately be brought to a shelter, provided by NGOs or the host-country, where they are going to be rehabilitated. It’s important that these actions take place as soon as possible, premised on the fact that these victims cannot help themselves, hence the need for immediate help. This help can only be rendered by experienced professionals and psychologists. These experienced professionals and psychologists have the enormous task of helping the victims overcome shame, fear and anxiety.

The culture of the victims must also be taken into consideration, as some cultures might not accept the victim of human trafficking as a member of the family he or she grew up in. This may affect their self-esteem. This has to be worked on. The victims should also be encouraged to share their experiences with other victims or the professionals without feeling ashamed. This will help in no small measure in the process of rehabilitation. Once the victims have been fully rehabilitated, they can then be reintegrated into the society by starting a new life, getting a job, having new relationships, etc.

It is noteworthy that the process of rehabilitation and reintegration can only succeed with the consent and willingness of the victims. Programs of rehabilitation and reintegration vary from country to country. Victims may be involved with learning how to trade or participate in sporting activities.

Organizations and Agencies Involved in Helping Victims

• International Organization for Migration (IOM) was established in 1995. It was also known as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM). Its purpose was to help migrants after the World War II and to manage the displacement chaos during that time in Europe. But the migrant problem wasn’t one that only existed in Europe, therefore the mandate got extended a multiple of times.

The IOM plays an important role in the issue of human trafficking, which can be described as an act of forced migration. One of the key principles of the IOM, however, is to fight forced migration and also human trafficking. IOM also assists in the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.

National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTlP)

The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons is a law enforcement agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria, founded in 2003 to combat human trafficking and other similar human rights violations. NAPTIP is one of the agencies under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Justice. Currently, the agency has 9 zonal commands located in Lagos, Benin, Enugu, Uyo, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Osogbo and Makurdi.

The agency partners with Non-Governmental Organizations to carry out its tasks in different states. In 2013, NAPTIP started partnering with Devatop Centre for Africa Development, a youth led anti-human trafficking organization, to train and empower youths in combating human trafficking in Nigeria, as well as investigating cases and rescuing victims. NAPTIP also partners with Network of CSOs against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour, Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation, and many others.

By September 2017 the agency had recorded over 331 convictions for human trafficking. Between 2003 and 2018, over 4000 victims have been rescued by NAPTIP. The agency has been at the forefront of rescuing and rehabilitating Nigerians from Libya and other countries with the help of the Federal Government, International Organization for Migration, and other international organizations.

• United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was established in 1997 after combining the ‘United Nations international Drug Control Program’ and the ‘Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division’. The aims are, as the name indicates, to fight drug abuse and criminality worldwide. There are several topics the UNODC concentrates on: Alternative development, Corruption, Crime prevention and criminal justice, Drug prevention, treatment and care, Drug trafficking, HIV and AIDS, Human trafficking and migrant smuggling, Money-laundering, Organized crime, Piracy, Terrorism prevention, Wildlife and forest crime. It is important to note that the UNODC not only tries to fight human trafficking, but also works on the rehabilitation of victims. On 5 March 2008 they launched the Blue Heart campaign to fight human trafficking and also helped to rehabilitate the victims. Some countries already have established rehabilitation and reintegration programs to help victims of trafficking once they return, for example Nigeria, the Philippines and South Korea. Furthermore, the United Nations established a new fund in 2010, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for victims of human trafficking, specifically for organization and rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking, in collaboration with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The Blue Heart campaign aims to fight human trafficking and its impacts on the society. It also urges people to show solidarity in fighting the inhumane act of human trafficking.

Helping Hands Legal Foundation

The initiative for incorporating Helping Hands Legal Foundation on 26 March 2019 came from the need to fill a vacuum in the war against human trafficking and organized crime following my exposure to the issues raised at the 2018 Summit of African Women Judges and Prosecutors in Rome. I know that these victims require awareness and compensation from the Traffickers. They need to be aware of their rights to assert themselves. Traffickers must be made to pay for their criminal actions.

Helping Hands Legal Foundation is an all-expert powered foundation designed and incorporated to engineer transformation, drive social justice imperatives and change in the justice delivery system in Nigeria, particularly as it concerns the indigent, the young and vulnerable persons in society. The Organization is located at No. 9, Ademola Crescent, Ibara, GRA, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria and its aims and objectives are to create a platform where Public and Private Legal Practitioners, as well as concerned Stakeholders will deliver free and quality legal services to members of the public who need it but are unable to afford it; Provide legal aid and easy access to justice for indigent persons; Organize mentorship programs for young lawyers; Act as public advice centre, in order to motivate young lawyers to pursue public interest career paths and participate actively in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which are paramount in a fast changing and revolving society. The Organization aims to provide legal services to victims of human trafficking by collaborating with NAPTIP, IOM, UNODC and other International Organizations to rescue, rehabilitate, reintegrate victims and in particular seek compensations for victims from Traffickers. In addition, to assist Government agencies in tracking down and prosecuting the Traffickers as prescribed by law.

Recommendation and Conclusion

The United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime, (UNODC), The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Helping hands Legal Foundation (HELP@LAW) have taken vital steps towards a successful rehabilitation and reintegration of victims worldwide by writing guides, helping nations with rehabilitation plans and providing access to justice.

However, all countries should establish a plan on how to rehabilitate and reintegrate victims of human trafficking. This plan should be basic enough in order to offer all needs but at the same time be flexible so that victims can enjoy the best possible treatment. It is crucial that authorities act as soon as they can to save the victims.

There should be risk assessment in order to ensure that the trafficker does not try to harm the secured victims. The IOM suggests having three stages of risk assessment. The first stage is a general risk assessment. The second stage is about the continuous review of the assessment and the third stage is to act on specific situations that occurred and might endanger the safety of the victim. Governments on their part should encourage companies to create programs which victims can be part of, this can be apprenticeships or internships designed solely for victims. Co-workers should also be prepared and educated on how to help them. This does not have to be complicated, just simple things, for example what not so say and in what situations. A recent study also reveals that Sport is a very good tool to rehabilitate and reintegrate; it helps victims to forget their traumatic experience and at the same time make new friends. The task of rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating the victims of human trafficking is an enormous one. We all have a role to play to make this work. The process of rescuing rehabilitating and reintegrating the victims of human trafficking is no cheap talk but hard work.

I thank my co-participants for listening and the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Vatican City for the opportunity to share my thoughts.


1. A study on the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. Accessed on 25 November 2019.
2. Blue Heart campaign against human trafficking.
3. https://www.hrw.org/news/2002/05/13/human-rights-approach-rehabilitation-and-reintegration-society-trafficked-victims
4. Human trafficking: A pandemic of the 21st Century. Accessed on 25 November 2019.
5. Human Trafficking, a fast growing crime. Accessed on 25 November 2019.
6. Human Trafficking and Organised Crime: An Epidemic in Plain Sight, Honourable Justice C.M.A. Olatoregun, 2018.