The Vicious Case of Sex Trafficking from Nigeria to Italy (written by Oluwatodimu Akolade Bankole)

Sex trafficking from Nigeria to Italy dates back to the 1980s where Nigerian migrant workers travelled to Italy to harvest fruits and vegetables.[1] Since then, an estimated number of 30,000 women have been trafficked from Nigeria to Italy in the past 30 years.[2] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IMO), 80% of the 11,009 registered Nigerian women who arrived in Sicily in 2016 were trafficked; this was twice the number of women who arrived in Italy in 2014 and 2015.[3] These women are not only made to live a life of forced prostitution in Italy but also in other European countries.

In Nigeria, more than 85% of sex trafficking victims come from the South-South region of the country,[4] precisely from Edo State. This is as a result of the false promises of wealth exploiters made to families and young girls who are living in poverty or lack education. For these exploiters, the sex trafficking industry is a huge profit as each woman is worth thousands of Euros. Previously, the victims of sex trafficking were flown to Italy with fake passports, however, due to an increase in the awareness of this issue which has led to an increase in airport control, the traffickers have now resorted to transporting the victims by sea.[5] These victims embark on a 2,500-mile dangerous journey by land, that is, they travel by land from Nigerian to Libya and then by sea from Libya to Italy. According to Carlotta Santarossa who is a counter-trafficking project manager for the IOM, the number of trafficked victims have immensely increased so much so that it has been impossible to provide them with the necessary services that they need.[6] Now, Nigerian women make up almost 90% of the sex workers in Italy and the women who are being trafficked are getting younger and younger.[7]

Contrary to traditional believes, sex trafficking from Nigerian to Italy is usually carried out by Nigerian ‘Madams’ who have themselves been victims of sex trafficking.[8] These Madams serve as an intermediary between the trafficked victims and their ‘customers’ in Italy and the rest of Europe. These women know the ins and outs of the industry as they have a network of substantial contact within the industry, therefore, they organize and implement the travelling as well as cover the financial cost of the journey. Hence, the victims are obligated to pay back the costs of their travels to the Madams with high-interest rates. However, the victims are not told the actual value of the costs, therefore, the Madams take advantage of this and demand ridiculously high amounts of money which are almost impossible to pay back. Due to this, the victims are forced by the Madams to engage in sex work in order to pay back what they allegedly owe. Accordingly, in order to ensure that they are not exposed, the Madams put the victims through traditional rituals where the victims are made to take oaths which are believed that if broken, death or misfortunes will befall them (the victims) or their families.[9] Therefore, the fear of this ensures the silence of the victims making it difficult to track down the traffickers or find the victims. Hence, these women are subjected to all forms of abuse and degrading living conditions.

Although it might seem difficult to bring an end to trafficking especially since the current increase in asylum seekers arriving in Europe from Sub-Saharan Africa, nonetheless, various organizations both in Nigeria and Italy have been working to provide support for the victims through counselling, educating them on their rights and disease preventive health mechanism. An example of such organization is Progetto Integrazione Accoglienza Migranti Onlus (PIAM) which was founded by a former victim of sex trafficking.[10] Also, organizations such as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) in Nigeria set up mechanisms to prevent trafficking, identify traffickers and protect the victims of trafficking.[11] In addition, self-help international organizations such as One Woman At A Time (OWAAT) educate and guide women who have been victims of such exploitation on how to legally protect and enforce their rights.[12] However, the government must undertake certain measure in order to reduce and subsequently eradicate sex trafficking from Nigeria to Italy.

In order to reduce and subsequently end sex trafficking, both the government of Nigeria and Italy need to ensure that investigation is carefully and adequately undertaken by the relevant bodies in order to identify possible victims of sex trafficking.[13] Likewise, prosecution of traffickers should be such that will result in a deterrence of such acts.[14] In order words, a conviction of sex trafficking should be accompanied with severe punishments. Furthermore, regular and appropriate training should be specially given to law enforcement on mechanisms which could be applied in handling certain situations. For example, interviewing possible victims, screening irregular asylum-seekers or migrants, identifying as well as interrogating possible traffickers and so on. Accordingly, adequate funding should be provided to NGOs working in the area of sex trafficking. In addition, well-equipped safe houses where protection is ensured should be provided for the victims. In regards to Italy, the government should create a structure by which asylum seekers could obtain legal employment whilst awaiting a response regarding their application;[15] this could potentially reduce the likelihood of asylum seekers getting exploited by traffickers and abusers. Likewise, due to the prevalence of sex trafficking in Nigeria and Italy, international law regarding trafficking such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) should be intensely adhered to in both countries. However, the international community needs to develop a law which specifically addresses the issue of sex trafficking. Furthermore, there should more collaboration between both countries on developing effective mechanisms to tackle sex trafficking. Lastly, the government needs to invest in raising awareness on sex trafficking in both countries.[16] In other words, awareness-raising activities should be carried out in schools, public and private institutions and the like, that way, citizens as well as migrants will be adequately educated and equipped on this issue.

[1] Annie Kelly, ‘Trafficked to Turin: the Nigerian women forced to work as prostitutes in Italy’ (The Guardian, 7 August 2016) <> accessed 12 July 2017

[2] Ibid

[3] International Organisation for Migration, ‘UN Migration Agency Issues Report on Arrivals of Sexually Exploited Migrants, Chiefly from Nigeria’ (The UN Migration Agency, 21 July 2017) <> accessed 3 August 2017

[4] See n.1

[5] ibid

[6] Annie Kelly, ‘Number of Nigerian women trafficked to Italy for sex almost doubled in 2016’ (The Guardian, 12 January 2016) <> accessed 3 August 2017

[7] Leah Kenny, ‘Sex Trafficking from Nigeria to Italy: A Complex and Vicious Cycle’ (London International Development Centre, 4 January 2017) <> accessed 21 July 2017

[8] See n.7

[9] Lorenzo Tondo and Annie Kelly, ‘The juju curse that binds trafficked Nigerian women into sex slavery’ (The Guardian, 3 September 2017) <> accessed 30 December 2017

[10] See n.1

[11] Urowayino Warami, ‘Nigeria, Italy partner on human trafficking – Envoy’ (Vanguard, 4 May 2017) <> accessed 3 August 2017

[12] Evie Andreou, ‘Women’s charity OWAAT-Cyprus adds Arabic and Yoruba to website’ (Cyprus Mail Online, 21 June 2017) <> accessed 28 August 2017

[13] US Department of State, ‘Italy: 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report’

[14] Ibid

[15] See Niamh Mclntyre, ‘Let Asylum Seekers Work to Reduce Poverty and Save £70m a Year, Says MP’ (Independent, 12 January 2017) <> accessed 30th January 2017

[16] US Department of State, ’15 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking’ <> accessed 30 December 2017

Posted in Human Rights, Uncategorized