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Nigerian Women Trafficked to Europe for Sex Trade

The International Organization for Migration says poverty, crime, corruption, and violence are driving thousands of people to emigrate from Nigeria, with young women particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation. The report says most of the victims come from Edo State in Southern Nigeria, with Benin City as the main source of women trafficked for prostitution.

The International Organization for Migration says Nigerian women are becoming increasingly aware they will be working in the sex business when offered jobs in Europe. But, it says job opportunities at home are limited and young women often are the sole support of their families.

The report says one unique feature of Nigerian trafficking is the creation of a so-called binding pact that both sides have to honor. It says most of the women incur debts of between $40,000- and $100,000 to traffickers in their bid to reach Europe.

Under this pact, the victim has to pay off the debt regardless of what is suffered along the way. In return, the trafficker has to let the victim earn money for herself after the debt has been paid.

IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says a woman who does not do the trafficker's bidding when she arrives in Europe can be exposed to a mixture of violence and coercive religious rituals.

"What these rituals really do is instill a sense of fear into the women. And it plays also on their psychological state of health. And, for the victim, breaking this pact, they feel that they cannot break this pact. Not just because of the damage it could do to them mentally and physically, but also because the shame of what it would actually bring to the communities at home," she said. "What happens is the pact is not just with the woman, it is with the family and the family in the community itself. The benefits of any money that the woman sends home affects the whole community at large."

The report finds the two major countries of destination in Europe are Britain and Italy, followed by the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Austria and France. But, it says Italy is the most important destination for Nigerian victims of trafficking. It estimates about one quarter to one half of the foreign prostitutes are from Nigeria.

IOM's Jemini Pandya, says Nigerian trafficking is organized primarily by women who, themselves, had been victims of trafficking.

"After they had themselves paid off the debt, which can actually take anything up to three years, they find it obviously difficult to find other kinds of work in Europe that either pays as much as the money they would earn from prostituting or just because they simply do not have any skills because they might not necessarily have any education," added Pandya.

The report notes traffickers are finding it more difficult to recruit women from urban areas because they are becoming more aware of the dangers that await them. So, it says they are turning to rural areas where women and girls have less access to information, are usually poorer and often easier to influence through religious rituals.