People who campaign against the ghastly phenomenon of human trafficking and sex slavery soon become aware that they are contending not only with flesh-and-blood wrongdoers but also with invisible forces which, if nothing else, are very much alive inside people’s heads.
One of the most notorious North-South rackets involves transporting young women, often minors, for sex work in Italy and beyond from Nigeria, in particular the southern area around Benin City. That part of the country has a powerful Christian presence, from Catholic to Pentecostal, but it is also a stronghold of traditional animist practices, including witchcraft. Its sex-slave trade has existed for three decades but it seems to have burgeoned recently. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that in 2016, some 11,100 Nigerian women landed in Sicily, and 80% entered a life of forced prostitution.
Before she is spirited off to Europe, the bond between a victim and her trafficker is often sealed with a voodoo ritual in which she surrenders pieces of clothing, fingernails and body hair; these fragments may be combined with drops of blood into a mixture which the victim is made to drink. This terrifies the young woman into thinking that curses will befall her family unless the debt to the trafficker, which can be around $50,000, is paid off.
According to Eugenia Bonetti, a Catholic religious sister who heads an NGO called Slaves No More, one of the many tragic consequences of all this is that young Nigerian women who are expelled from Italy or are helped by charities to return home can find themselves ostracised by their own families. Christian religious orders in Nigeria try to look after these returnees but they are treated as social pariahs.
In March, an attempt was made to tackle this problem by fighting fire with fire….
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