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Enslaved in France, Nigerian Woman Fights Back

In part one of VOA's series on Nigerian sex trafficking, we met Amaka Chinye, a 22-year-old who survived weeks in the desert en route to her new life in Europe only to be forced into prostitution when she arrived. This is the story of how she fought back.

When she finally made it to Tripoli, Libya, Amaka Chinye was directed to a boat that crossed the Mediterranean Sea and brought her to a camp in Italy.

There, she was handed to another person, one in the chain of people connecting the recruiter in Nigeria who convinced her to go to her future "madam" in France.

“I was there when the lady came and she was asking for my name. My name is Amaka. So she was asking for me, she wanted to see me. She brought a lawyer to collect me, so that is how they took me to France," she said.

Debt trap

When she got to France, she learned that she owed the madam 62,000 Euro - that’s over $80,000 - and her only job prospect was sex work. The madam had a party for two young women who were leaving. She told Amaka that life is good for her "girls."

"She was like doing send off. It was like a celebration. She was cooking. Jubilating," said Amaka. "She introduced those two girls to me. ‘You can see, these are my girls. They just finished paying me. Do you know how much they have in their accounts? Do you know they have a house in Nigeria?’”

After a month of working the streets day and night paying off her debt at about $500 a week, Amaka realized she could never make all that money. She realized that she had essentially become a slave.

"So from there we have to involve the police. Because there’s no way I can pay 62,000 Euro. I don’t have a job there," she said.

Traffickers count on girls to be afraid to run away because they swear a "juju" oath that many believe has magical powers. Before she left Nigeria, Amaka swore she would obey and pay the madam, or face death.

Amaka went to the police anyway. She was immediately detained and questioned and she told them everything.

"They arrested the husband first before they arrested her. That was [when] they booked the flight. And when we were coming back I was not the only person inside the flight that they were taking back, there were up to 14 girls, they were all girls that they were taking back," she recalled.

Poor, but glad to be back

A student at Nigeria's Benin University in Benin City walks past a billboard encouraging women to fight prostitution and human trafficking.
A student at Nigeria's Benin University in Benin City walks past a billboard encouraging women to fight prostitution and human trafficking.
When she got home, Amaka began to pick up the pieces of the life she had left. She once ran a small shop, but she couldn’t afford to stock it, so she bought some clothes to hock in the market.

At a lively community center in Benin City, she says she’s glad to be back, even if she is now even poorer than she was when she left.

But, I ask, is she afraid to be killed by the juju spell?

“They said I’m going to die if I did not pay. I should die. But I’ve been waiting for death and death did not come. I know it will not come. I am very much stronger than juju," Amaka said.