Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nigeria is the largest African source of trafficked women to Europe and Asia

According to the article by NEXT below. Nigeria is the largest source of trafficked women to Europe and Asia:

Standing just outside the town hall in Egor local government council, Edo State, Caroline Osasu did not allow NEXT talk to her daughter. This is not surprising. Mrs. Osazu mumbles in pidgin English that she agreed to this interview in the first place, only because the ‘fixer’ was her close friend.

“I can explain a little. I cannot just explain everything because...” she stops midway, as her eyes fill with tears. Fair-skinned, with some wrinkles, beautiful, though impoverished, this mother of seven won’t even look me in the eyes as we speak. She often retreats into a shell of silence; quite like the big snails she sells at Egor market for a meagre living.

Mrs. Osasu was approached by a family friend who said she wanted to “help” her 22-year-old daughter ‘travel out’. Her first child, whose name she did not reveal, worked for 10 months in Spain as a prostitute before she was deported two months ago.

She is just one of thousands of Nigerian females trafficked into the international sex trade yearly. According to the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, (NAPTIP), about 10,000 Nigerian girls, aged between 13 to 17 years, are either in jail or held captive by sex-slave lords in Morocco and Libya, with a high percentage of them being indigenes of Edo State.

About that same number of females are also reportedly living and working in Italy as prostitutes. Adefunke Abiodun, Head, Benin zone of NAPTIP, said that within Africa, Nigeria is the largest single source of trafficked women to Europe and Asia. “It is a lucrative business for the trafficker, their recruiters... in fact, everyone, except the girls concerned”.

Mrs. Abiodun said although some girls were willing to get involved in the trade, they had no choice regarding which country they would end up in—or how life-threatening and lengthy their journeys would be. Only few go by air. And even then, they do so after going by road to other African countries (Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and South Africa) and may reach Europe by train.

Trail of tears

“More are shuttled from Benin to Katsina and on to Niger/Togo/Burkina Faso/Guinea from where they often have to walk through a section of the Sahara desert to get to Algeria or Morocco,” she said. Horror tales abound. Deaths have occurred on the desert stretch; the victims are covered with sand and the rest continue the drive or trek. Some girls are sold, or made to prostitute to raise money to continue the journey.

Many are impregnated, contract HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases and, like the 10,000 girls in Libya and Morocco, are considered faulty goods and left behind in transit countries.

Those remaining must continue the journey by boat (usually at night) from Morocco to Spain. These tangible dangers, however, have done nothing to stem the sex trade. If anything, it toughens the girls. Mrs. Osasu admitted that her daughter did not return home because she did not want to continue in the job as a sex worker. “She came back home because she was deported,” she said.

Edo State carries the stigma

Edo State prides itself in having 2,000 years of history and culture. But, sadly, it also has the unattractive reputation of being a hub for the international sex trade. According to The Advocacy Project, a Washington based NGO, “Edo is only one of 36 Nigerian states, but it has produced over 80 per cent of the women trafficked to Europe.

Trafficking prostitutes began in the late 1980s, when Italy was importing immigrant labourers to feed a booming informal economy. Nigerian women began travelling to the central Italian region of Campania to pick tomatoes. Gradually, they were attracted to the large cities of Rome, Naples, and Florence, where they found a high demand for their charms.

(So high, in fact, that on one occasion, Italian prostitutes publicly protested against the encroachment on their turf by Nigerians.)” Today, trafficking females for prostitution is an industry of sorts. NEXT’s investigations revealed that there are two classes of travellers: those who paid their handling charges to the destination and those who were poorer and would therefore have to be ‘sponsored’.

Mrs. Osasu said the latter was the case with her daughter. “My child worked and paid this woman 25,000 euros in 10 months, yet she said the money was not enough. That until she is satisfied, that is when we will stop paying.” Jomo Edafeyeyan, a resident of Egor, says: ‘Girls who are sponsored are actually the ones who are thoroughly maltreated, especially if the madam was once assaulted herself.

"Her thugs, who also act as ‘trolley,’ sleep with the girls anyhow and beat them into submission at the madam’s request. For those who pay their way, they part with up to ₦500, 000. But again, they get returned faster, since they are not as ‘lucrative’ as the thoroughly dependent girls.” A trolley is the agent who ferries the girl from her home to the required destination.

"Once there, reports show that girls are asked to pay back as much as $50,000 dollars, by prostituting. For those who refuse, anything from threats with arrest, beatings, and even death may be their lot.”

Ruthless people

Last year, media reports quoted Isoke Aikpitanyi, founder and spokesperson of the Association of Benin City Girls (ABCG), as saying that more than 200 prostitutes had been killed in Italy within three years, by their handlers when they attempted to escape. ABCG is the only association of victims and former victims of human trafficking in Italy.

“These people are ruthless”, Mrs. Edafeyeyan said. She said the practice was so widespread that virtually every family in Edo has a person working abroad, or has someone who is a sponsor or recruiter or who must at least know people who are any of these three.

Another source, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, told NEXT. “Here, it is a thing of pride to have a child abroad, no matter if she is into prostitution.

Obituary announcements leave people envious of the number of children the deceased has abroad. At parties, special music is played and people who do not have children abroad are asked to leave the dance floor so those who do can preen. They spray euros and dollars as others look on, wishing out loud that they either had children abroad or that their children had stayed long enough to have legal documents instead of being repatriated.”

A trade backed by manipulation

The handlers also make their potential wards go through frightening rituals to make them obey their wish. A source said: “On the day of departure, the girls have their pubic and armpit hairs shaved, their nails cut and given to their handlers. Their underwear is also confiscated. It is believed that these intimate items are held by the sponsors to enable them place a curse on the girls should they refuse to pay their debts. The girls are often taken to shrines where they swear they will not renege on the terms of their ‘contract’.”

Mrs. Abiodun also confirmed that girls trafficked have reported they were told to indulge in pornography which was filmed and photographed by their handlers. In January 2005, customs and immigration officials conducting routine checks came across pornographic pictures, pubic hair, finger nails, menstrual pads, immigration records, payment records, and agreements of debt bondage, all wrapped in batches with the names of the owners in a bag belonging to a certain Esther Eborieme.

Quack lawyers have also been known to draw up agreements, on behalf of sponsors, which say the girls or their family members will be arrested for failure to pay up. Mrs. Osasu was dragged to the Aiyelala shrine to swear that a curse would befall her if she had received any money from her daughter when the sponsor’s debt was not yet paid off.

“A whole generation of children have been brought up on this prostitution money, but it has also destroyed a lot of families,” says the NAPTIP boss. “Even parents fight each other over money sent home by their children. Families have also squandered funds sent for building of houses or buying of cars, only for the poor girls to come home to nothing.”

The people

The Distraught Mother: Caroline Osasu

Well, I didn’t know my daughter would end up a prostitute. The person who carried her there said she wanted to help me. I did not pay, but when my child got there, she started paying her back. My daughter spent about 10 months before she came back from Spain. After about 10 months, she said police arrested her there, they carried her to a cell, then they brought her to Lagos.

She told me everything that happened, but she did not return because of prostitution. She returned because she was deported. She is now in computer school. I will like to tell people that before your child goes abroad, be careful because you cannot allow just anybody to carry your child abroad. Young girls should face their jobs.

The two-time traveller: ‘At least I am a free woman now’- Victoria Ohonbahor

The first time I went to Italy was in 1979. They came to meet me that they would sponsor me. I won’t lie; I knew I was going to do sex work. Business is business. Nobody beat me or treated me badly. I spent six months in Italy, but it was inside the refugee camp. I did not have chance to work because they arrested us immediately we arrived. Our documents were fake.

I went again in 1985, but that time was worse. We were in Libya for three months. They were fighting in the country so the police quickly caught us. When they sent me back again for the second time, I knew that I was not lucky with travelling out. I had to pay my sponsor with a plot of land my parents left for me when they died. I did not want to go to jail. The land is here in Egor.

They have already built a house on it. Since! But at least, I am a free woman. I am not looking for big money in my life again. I have two children, so if I can see small money to support this my fish hawking business, I will be happy.

The Younger Sister: ‘We thought she had contracted AIDS’ -Blessing Smart

We are 10 children; six daughters and four boys. Growing up was hard. My sister is 27. She was approached by someone who told her she can travel. She said the madam someone introduced her to said she should start the prostitution even before they left Libya to go to Italy. When she refused, the madam sent her boys to beat her up. So she ran from them in Libya and came back home herself.

Somebody helped her. Some of the girls that went with my sister died when they went for abortion. The madam was wicked. Her boys even broke her hand before she came. She was so sick we thought maybe she had contracted AIDS. There were a lot of marks on her body.

The government

Abike Dabiri, Chairperson, House of Reps committee on Diaspora

This is a national embarrassment. We have a case of young girls within 13 years and above, in various jails in Libya and Morocco. Some are pregnant and having their babies in prison. Still, they use them for prostitution. The authorities are clamping down on them and putting them in jails. And they are saying they want to go home.

We have met with the Oba of Benin and the governor on the need to educate the people, and in terms of rehabilitating repatriated girls respectively. Even from our conversations with the girls, they didn’t go without the support of their mothers. They go with the knowledge of their families. No matter how bad it is, we should not send our girls into prostitution.

We know that government has to do its job of providing infrastructure and all that, but no matter how bad it is, there is no justification for mothers to send their daughters into prostitution.

Adams Oshiomole, Governor of Edo State

I think we need all our senses and less emotion to deal with this issue. No country changes because its citizens perfect the act of lamentation. Nigeria is in trouble; I do not regard this as Edo problem. It does not matter if majority of the young girls are of Edo State origin. The basic fact is that they are Nigerians. And they are a federal responsibility.

The federal government has a responsibility to any Nigerian stranded outside the country. Foreign relations are exclusively a federal matter. The federal government controls over 51 per cent of our national income. It is about protecting the right of citizens. The first thing is to halt this and put an end to what is becoming a tradition; that people sell their children.

The second challenge is getting those who have migrated back home from continuing prostitution when they get back home. We have to look at this, in the medium and long term, how to get these girls meaningfully engaged. We are not going to wish poverty away. Both the federal, state and local governments must look into this. We have to sustain this campaign.

Adefunke Abiodun, Head, Benin zone office of NAPTIP (which covers Edo and Delta States)

We were set up in July 2004. That same year in December, we secured a conviction against a trafficker. The six girls that the trafficker was carrying were rehabilitated. One of them is now a staff with NAPTIP. We’ve had eight other convictions and 12 cases are pending. We work with overseas partners because in their countries, they have a lot of Nigerians—young girls from this state—and they constitute a nuisance.

NAPTIP is not against migration or emigration. We are against human trafficking, which is modern-day slavery. Taking the proceeds of someone’s prostitution is inhuman. We go to their homes to counsel their parents, ask them to accept their daughters back. These young girls have merely taken the bull by the horns to say ‘Well, there is nothing in Nigeria for me.

I want to go out... whatever it costs.’ Once you see that kind of thing, you know that the government has a responsibility. It is not easy tracking down traffickers because these girls feel that those who traffic them are actually doing them a favour.

It may be their family members, their boyfriends... people close to them. Those who have been really maltreated by their madams know better.

Related story: Video - Documentary on human trafficking between Nigeria and Italy 

Video - Part 2 of documentary on human trafficking between Nigeria and Italy 

Unplanned pregnancies on the rise among Nigerian young women

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