News / Africa

Bound By Magic, Nigerian Women Enslaved

Grace Osakue heads NGO Girls Power Initiative. She says sex trafficking from Nigeria to Europe is often due to lack of awareness. Girls get tricked into volunteering to go, thinking they will get good jobs and wealth overseas. (H. Murdock for VOA)
Grace Osakue heads NGO Girls Power Initiative. She says sex trafficking from Nigeria to Europe is often due to lack of awareness. Girls get tricked into volunteering to go, thinking they will get good jobs and wealth overseas. (H. Murdock for VOA)
Heather Murdock
Tens of thousands of Nigerian women are bonded to sexual servitude in Europe through the use of local magic called juju.  Lured out of Nigeria with promises of lucrative jobs, women find themselves forced to work grueling hours as prostitutes.  Most of the victims are from Edo State.

Here in Benin City, it seems that everyone knows a girl who was or is in Europe. 

Many have been away for a long time.  Others are back with harrowing tales.  They talk about deadly travels through the desert, forced prostitution, arrest, imprisonment and ultimately deportation, penniless, back to the extreme poverty they fled with such high hopes.


Last year, 22-year-old Amaka was approached by a woman who said she would take her to America and Europe.  If she worked hard and was good, she would come home rich.

"I was like, ‘say, what kind of job?’ ‘You can work in poultry, you can work in the farm, you can work as a house help.’ I was like, ‘Ah, you know I guess I will go to a European country and work.  It will be great.’  So I like it, even when I get there I was very, very happy.  At first," she said.

Amaka says she was happy because she survived weeks in the Sahara desert.  When they ran out of water, they drank urine to survive only to land in Libya at war, where many of her fellow travelers died. 

However, her joy was short-lived. There never was a job waiting, only spiked heels, a skimpy dress and orders to work the streets day and night until she paid her madam nearly $80,000 - the bill for getting her to France.

Grace Osakue heads the aid organization Girls Power Initiative and has long researched human trafficking in Nigeria.  Amaka’s tale, she says, is not unusual.

"A lot of people set out with the intention of migrating to greener pastures to escape the poverty in the environment but they become victims of trafficking because those who facilitate such movement are agents of traffickers," said Osakue.

When they get to Europe, she says, few girls dare run away because they are literally bound to traffickers by magical oaths that they took in Nigeria. 

Even if you don’t believe in magic, she adds, there is no denying the power of the oaths.  Many of the girls believe if they don’t pay back the travel fees, they and their loved ones will be killed by the juju spell.

At this café on the outskirts of the city, Inuaghata says she swore she would pay back $35,000 when she got to Europe. 

"I promised them that I would pay, but the person didn’t believe me.  So, we have to swear," she said.

Inuaghata, like Amaka, didn't know about the differences in currencies. She thought she was swearing to pay the equivalent of 35,000 Nigerian Naira - about $220.

Beatrice Jedy-Agba, the executive secretary for Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency, known as NAPTIP, says her agency is working to raise awareness among young women in Edo State, the home state of more than 60 percent of the victims, so they can't get tricked like this.

When asked why so many of the victims come from Edo State, home to just 4 million out of Nigeria’s more than 160 million people, she says the answer is largely a mystery.

"It does appear that the first people that made it across to Europe at the time and were successful - seemingly successful - in this business were from the state, and so then they started to bring their relatives and their friends and of course other people they don’t know into the trade," said Jedy-Agba.

Jedy-Agba says trafficking was big business here long before it was criminalized in the early 2000s.  Current laws are being revised, she adds, to impose harsher penalties on traffickers and to punish the traditional priests who magically bind the victims.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
November 23, 2012 8:49 AM
Hopefully, our girls would be empowered to resist the lure of traveling out to 'work'. Education and economic empowerment would stem the tide faster.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs