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Nigerian sex traffickers lure young girls (ages 12-18) into sex slavery in Europe. There are over 100,000 Nigerians in the sex trade in Europe, mainly in Italy and England. Around 80% come from Edo, a southern state that is home to only three percent of Nigeria’s population. It is the trafficking capital of Africa, and home of the traditional West African religion known as Juju. (Modern Ghanha)

While sex workers face struggles for power and rights when their work is voluntary, the struggles are even more heartbreaking when women are forced into the work. It is normal for trafficked women and girls to have sex with 10 or 12 men a day. They must work even when they feel ill, are on their period, or have been beaten and severely injured by their clients. Women involved in the sex trade have a very high risk of contracting HIV, and face stigmatization for their positive status upon returning home.

Why do girls end up in these tragic situations? Some suggest for purely economic reasons: they are promised a lot of money, and sometimes a girl’s family or even boyfriend or husband will encourage her to work in the sex trade in Europe for several years. They will expect her to return home with a large sum of money.

However, some reasons transcend the purely economic.

Nigerian traffickers often approach girls from families with little education and economic means, and promise her transportation to and work opportunities in Europe. And to make sure that she doesn’t bail on their plan once she realizes what she will be forced to do, they make her take an oath based on traditional “Juju” practices:

“The girl is taken to a shrine or a cemetery in the middle of the night, her finger nails are cut off, her pubic hair is shaved, a menstrual pad containing her blood is taken away, and then a piece of her clothing is removed," said Orakwue Arinze, a spokesman for the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP)
"These are deposited in a shrine with wicked incantations that this girl should die and her family be wiped out in the event that she runs away or [exposes] these criminal practices," he added.” (BBC)

So how large scale is this horrific abuse of human rights? An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 women are trafficked into sex slavery from Nigeria each year. Worldwide, the U.S. Congressional Research Service estimates that every year two million people are trafficked against their will to work in some form of servitude. Annually, about 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States alone. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that trafficking in human beings is a $5 to $7 billion industry worldwide (American University).

As the global community tries to find a solution, we must recognize that poverty and sex trafficking for hand in hand. In order to combat sex slavery, we need to combat global poverty aggressively.

"Trafficking is inextricably linked to poverty. Wherever privation and economic hardship prevail, there will be those destitute and desperate enough to enter into the fraudulent employment schemes that are the most common intake systems in the world of trafficking.” -USAID Office of Women in Development

Globalization and income disparity between the wealthy and the poor have huge costs, especially to these vulnerable women. Working to reduce poverty in developing nations is crucial to combatting sex slavery. Helping and fully funding developing countries’ educational programs should be a high priority for the international community. This type of funding helps young girls can stay in school longer and escape being preyed upon. But, like any business, sex work and forced sex trafficking will only continue if there are clients willing to pay for it. It is as much the westerner’s fault for paying for sex with these abused women, as it is the Nigerian traffickers who bring them to Europe.
It is important to look past the data and understand that these trafficking victims are real people:

Rachel was living in Benin City with her sister when she was approached by a man who asked if she would like to go abroad and earn money. After a long and roundabout route she arrived in Rome, where she met her pimp, named "Madam Agnes." She was shocked to learn that she was expected to earn $50,000 dollars from prostitution, or be denounced to the police as an illegal immigrant. At the going rate that would have meant sex with several partners a day for three years.

Rachel tried to escape, but to no avail. After three weeks on the streets, a client drove her to the patch of empty ground. After having sex with Rachel in his car, he told her to hand over all of her earnings from the day. She kept her earnings in a sock and gave him an empty purse. He started to curse and hit her, whereupon she managed to open the door and start running. He started the car and drove it right at her, knocking her down. Luckily he then drove off, because as she knows only too well, she could have been killed. Covered in blood and crying, Rachel then walked back to the corner where she worked. In retrospect, it seems amazing that she returned. It shows how totally cowed she had been by her experience and by the fearsome Madam Agnes.

Rachel was rescued by a group of modern Samaritans from the Catholic group Caritas, who patrol the streets of Rome every Wednesday in an attempt to check up on the prostitutes. They quickly realized that Rachel was sick and asked her to go to a hospital with them. At first Rachel refused: "I thought I would not be able to afford treatment." They insisted gently and told her that the treatment would be free. Even ensconced in a hospital bed, Rachel was reluctant to sleep, afraid of how Madam would react. The staff carried out medical tests, which presumably included a test for sexually transmitted diseases and even HIV-AIDS.

Rachel’s five days in the hospital finally broke the grip of Madam Agnes. The Caritas group asked if Rachel wanted to return to Nigeria and offered to help. She was taken to a convent in Rome, where she stayed for several days with two other girls. She then went to the Nigerian embassy in Rome and to the office of the International Organization of Migration, to collect the necessary documents and ticket. In one final act of pure malice, Madam Agnes had phoned Rachel’s family after she had escaped and told them that she had been killed. When Rachel returned home, alive and well, they were overjoyed. They were also bitterly angry-so angry, in fact, that they went in person to confront the brother of Agnes. He was living in Benin City and had arranged for the departure of their child two months earlier.

Rachel’s story rings true for most Nigerians, and it is only one of thousands of stories just like it that radiate from all over the world. (via http://www1.american.edu/ted/italian-trafficking.htm)

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