Religious sister and the Yak Iyamma Team raising-awareness campaign in Southern Nigeria

Team work against human trafficking

 Team work against human trafficking  ING-019
10 May 2024

Trafficking in persons has been a cruel reality in Nigeria since the 1980s, one that is unfortunately still present. In response to an appeal made by the Bishops of Nigeria and Major Superiors to join in the fight against human trafficking, Sr Anthonia M. Essien, hhcj , and her team have launched awareness raising programs in rural villages in Akwa Ibom State.

Sister Anthonia M. Essien is a member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus in Nigeria. She is a Professor of Sociology of Religion and the current Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Uyo, Nigeria. Despite her busy schedule as a university Professor, Sr Anthonia responded to the plight of trafficked victims by wholeheartedly joining in the fight against human trafficking, through awareness and skills acquisition programs. “I was moved by the stories of the victims. I could not sleep. I had to do something for them”, said Sr Anthonia.

Lives of children and teenagers saved

Since 2021, Sr Anthonia has carried out several pastoral activities in rural villages in Akwa Ibom State, raising awareness among the people on the ills of trafficking in persons. She works actively in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies to facilitate the arrest of traffickers, and ensuring that they face the law.

Her efforts recently resulted in the rescue of several children and teenagers who had been sold to traffickers within the country. “I was shocked to learn that some of the children had been sold by an adult known to them”, Sr Anthonia said. “My first response, when the father of two of the children told me they were missing, was to get the police and the State anti-trafficking department involved. Their prompt response led to the rescue of the children”.

Community Action Group

Sr Anthonia came up with the idea of a Community Action Group — local donors and stakeholders — to involve the local community in the Yak Iyamma project for the prevention of human trafficking. This entails training community leaders and young people to become fellow ambassadors for the protection of local community members from traffickers, and empowering the youth with skills for their their livelihood.

Thanks to the support of her religious sisters and to funding from local donors and the Arise Foundation in the United Kingdom, Sr Anthonia and her team were able to reach out to many vulnerable persons in the rural communities of Abiaokpo Ikot Abasi Inyang in Akwa Ibom State. “Every day I thank God and pray for all those who support this work, particularly our benefactors”, Sr Anthonia highlighted.

Antitrafficking campaigns

Some of Yak Iyamma’s anti-trafficking campaigns in Akwa Ibom State were carried out in market places, on the streets and in the inner villages. Sr Anthonia and her team went out to meet the people in the scorching heat and heavy rains with the aim of raising awareness on the activities of traffickers, who steal children and lure teenagers from the local community, and informing them on how they can participate in curbing this evil. “We must continue to educate our people on the various ways human traffickers deceive them and our voices must be stronger, especially where some of the community members have become victims”, Sr Anthonia urged. There were times when the Yak Iyamma team had to walk for hours to reach some local communities, but they did so with joy and contentment.

Unfortunately, human traffickers in Nigeria continue to target the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Yet despite receiving many threats, Sr Anthonia and her Team are not discouraged and they continue to raise awareness in rural communities, offering skills acquisition programs to empower young people in the fight against human trafficking, and to promote the protection of minors and the most vulnerable in society.


By Sr Oluwakemi Akinleye fsp