The Unbreakable Cycle: Nigerian women forced into prostitution

The days of slavery are still far from over. Action groups fighting human trafficking often use the term modern-day slavery to when describing the grave injustices that are happening to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

A targeted group is young Nigerian women who are seeking a better life in Europe. Allured by the prospects of good jobs and improved living conditions, they trek from Nigeria across the Mediterranean, and into France and Italy are often tackled alone by young adult and teenage girls. However, after making the journey to Europe, these young girls rarely find the better life that they were promised. Many are told that they must pay up to 35,000 euros to cover the cost of their travel, and when they cannot pay that money back, they are forced into prostitution.

 Image Courtesy of via Flickr © 2015, some rights reserved

Nadege is the name one woman uses to tell her sorry. She came to France from the south of Nigeria and was forced to work as a prostitute until the birth of her son gave her the strength to go into hiding. She was under the control of a female Nigerian pimp, known as a “madam.”  All of her earnings were given straight back the “madam,” which totals about twenty euros per client.

At the age of six, Nadege was raped for the first time in her neighborhood, and by the age of fifteen, she was raped again, and this time ended in the need for an abortion. It is these living conditions that have forced her to seek a better life in Europe. When she met a “madam” in her state in Nigeria, called the Edo State, she was promised a life as a waitress. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO),states that this region has one of the highest concentration of human traffickers.

The EASO states that there are many driving factors that continue to push Nigerian women to Europe, including, “illiteracy, the discrimination and violence faced by women in Nigerian society, the disruption of support systems, but also the desire to support one’s family,  or ‘the desire for greater autonomy and adventure, divorce, love, and familial expectations’.” These all serve as push factors, that promote the Nigerian women to leave their country; however, strong pull factors already exist in Europe. These include high demands in the sex market that leads to an increased need for sex workers and the increased social acceptance of prostitution.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of this issue is the limited ability that governments have to combat sex trafficking. In France in particular, selling sex is not illegal, while buying it is illegal, it is much more difficult to control. As well, the “madams” have instilled so much fear in their victims that it is near impossible to get women to come forward. As Nadege explained, there is a ritual that is performed before leaving Nigeria, in which the women are forced to recite an oath of sorts while lying in a coffin. This symbolizes that they will come back in a coffin if they do not obey their “madams.” The women are branded with scars that link them back to a specific network in Nigeria. This is another way to ensure that they will be punished if they do not obey.

This raised the question, ‘what can we do to stop this from happening?’ According to the EASO, the likelihood of a victim to receive help from the Nigerian government is not very high. The high levels of corruption add to the danger of seeking help. However, if someone is detained on the prospect of prostitution, or they are found to be a victim they will be released and provided assistance. Although, victims who have been returned to Nigeria are not seen as being at great risk. This is due to the fact that traffickers would be more likely to send the women back to Europe than to severely harm or kill them. This creates a vicious cycle in which the women never experience freedom. In order to fully combat the problem, the EASO reports, “that recovery of human trafficking victims may require very rich programs designed by different professionals such as social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, medical personnel, legal professionals etc.” Without significant funding, the ability to save these women is greatly diminished. However, if there was increased governmental support in combating the human trafficking rings in Nigeria, and creating safer living conditions in the areas that these women are being taken from, the possibility to decrease the number of victims would be higher.


Banner image: Image Courtesy of CEE-HOPE NIGERIA via Wikimedia © 2015, some rights reserved