ACCRA, Officials of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have called for critical attention to be paid to the growing involvement of women and youth of the sub-region as active participants and victims in organized crime.

Sandra Oulate Fattoh Elleingand, the Director of ECOWAS Gender Development Centre (EGDC), said here Monday that a significant proportion of women and young people in the region were out of school and unemployed and were being targeted by terrorists and other criminals for recruitment into their networks.

She said out of the estimated population of 394 million people in West Africa, women formed about 52 per cent which meant that women constituted the majority of the West African population, while 66 per cent of the sub-region’s population was below the age of 25 years. This makes women and young people the prime targets of terrorists and criminal minded people.

As victims of violence extremism and other criminal activities, women and young people continue to suffer various indignities, including death, gross human rights abuses, abductions, sex slavery, rape and pillage, and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse,” she said.

A typical example is the abduction of over 250 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram in April 2014. Some of these girls have become suicide bombers and are wreaking havoc in several parts of Nigeria.

Every year, between 3,800 girls and 5,000 women are reported as victims of human trafficking in the sub-region, she said when addressing the opening of a Joint Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA)/EGDC Regional Forum on the Gender and Youth Dimensions of Financial and Cross-Border Criminality in West Africa.

Elleingand expressed grave concern for the growing phenomenon which posed a serious threat not only to the stability and development of West Africa, but also to the security and well-being of the people.

She said organized crime, which had been one of the major development challenges facing the sub-regional governments since the immediate post-independence era, had in recent years assumed very complex transnational dimensions which have serious implications for security, economic growth and development, political stability, and respect for the rule of law and human rights.