Nigerian sex slavery in Italy fueled by violence and ‘juju’ magic

September 29, 2016 | By | Reply More

Sep 29, – Before her journey through Niger to Libya, a spiritual priest practicing a form of black magic known in Nigeria as “juju” had forced her to swear an oath of obedience to her trafficker.

Nigerian sex slavery in Italy fueled by violence and 'juju' magicWhen Nigerian teenager Beauty arrived in Sicily after crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa last year, she had only hours to phone the man who trafficked her – or risk lethal repercussions for loved ones back home.

The threat of a “curse” if she broke her oath and the possibility of violence by her traffickers at home in Benin City, a southern Nigerian hub for human trafficking, were enough to trap her into sex slavery.

“If I had reported him to the police, my family would have been in great danger,” said Beauty, 19, fiddling with black-and-blond braids as she recalled the events of last summer.

“At the (migrant) camp a man came to pick me up in a car. I got into the car and I was taken away.”

Beauty, who uses a pseudonym and declined to reveal her full name, is one of around 12,000 Nigerian women who reached Italy by sea over the past two years, official data shows.

That’s a six-fold increase over the previous two-year period, with the majority – almost 80 percent – of the young women victims of trafficking, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Young, exhausted and vulnerable, many victims report being told that prostitution is the only way to repay hefty debts ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 euros ($28,000-$112,000) to their traffickers, Italian charities say.

Fear plays a large part in the juju rituals, with pubic hair, fingernails and blood collected from the victim as she is made to swear never to report her situation to the authorities, rights groups say.

In some cases, fearing the juju “spell” may be turned on them and they may die, Nigerian parents insist their daughters obey their traffickers, testimony from Italian court documents shows.

Beauty only learned later that she had been trafficked – and that the man who had brought her to Europe, a friend of her father’s, now demanded she pay back 25,000 euros ($28,000) by working as a prostitute.

“My pimp was a nice man. I think he was a good man,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the security of the safe house where she now lives.

But as she provided sex services for dozens of Italian clients in a town in southern Italy, a tyranny of abuse unfolded, she said.

“The man pimped me. His girlfriend beat me.”

“OUT OF CONTROL”

With numbers of Nigerians rising in Sicily, prostitution is a thriving business, campaigners say – though nobody knows exactly how many women end up plying their trade on the streets.

Close to the vibrant cultural center in the island’s southeastern port city of Catania, six or seven African women posed outside shuttered-up shops at night as teams from a local charity, the Penelope Association, offered support and advice.

“The women need help to reintegrate in society,” said Oriana Cannavo, head of the charity’s Catania branch, nodding towards a woman in a short turquoise dress sauntering up and down the pavement.

The offer of support is a delicate one, Cannavo said, because the girls are already in the psychological clutches of their traffickers.

The number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy is accelerating – complicating the task of law enforcement agencies determined to keep tabs on the location of pimps or their female brokers known as “madams”.

The new arrivals are also stretching the workload of the IOM, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and local charities, aid workers say.

“It is reaching a stage where it is out of control,” said Margherita Limoni, a legal advisor with the IOM in Catania.

The number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy has almost doubled in the past year, surpassing 6,300 in the first eight months of 2016, up from 3,400 for the same period last year, according to the IOM.

Unaccompanied children from Nigeria – some as young as 10 or 11 – have also flocked to Italy. Around 1,700 arrived in the first eight months of this year, while 1,000 came during the whole of 2015, the IOM data shows.

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo reports.

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Category: International

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