Nigerian women and girls represent a large proportion of women enslaved in Europe for commercial sexual exploitation, with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimating that in Italy alone, between 10,000 and 12,000 Nigerian women have been enslaved in the sex industry. Due to high levels of unemployment, there is widespread migration for overseas sex work, with reports indicating that some women migrating to Italy for work from Edo State have been exploited, abused and subjected to extreme violence upon their arrival. Often with the support of their families, these women are lured by the promise of employment and education opportunities offered by unscrupulous recruiters, who are often linked to members of international trafficking gangs. In addition to sexual exploitation, many Nigerians – particularly men and boys – are in forced labour and exploited in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture or begging.
Nigeria has high numbers of child labourers, with an estimated 47% of children aged 4- 15 in child labour. Children are also vulnerable to domestic servitude through the traditional practice of child-fosterage. Evidence suggests that families in rural areas send their children to work as domestic helpers in homes of wealthier families in cities, in exchange for board and education. In recent times, traffickers (“agents”) have taken advantage of this practice to recruit children and “farm” them to employers for wages that are meant for the children, and remit a small percentage of the wages either to the parents or teenagers among them. Many of these children are physically, mentally and sexually abused and denied access to any education. Similar to the child-fosterage system, the koranic education system promotes the sending of children by their families from rural to urban areas to live with and receive a Koranic education from Islamic teachers. This has given rise to the emergence of almajiris (child beggars) exploited by their teachers to beg for alms and food. Estimates suggest up to 10 million children are almajirais There have also been reports of almajirai being deliberately scarred or injured to arouse sympathy and encourage donations. In northern Nigeria, cases of forced marriages are particularly high. Boko Haram is using forced marriage and sexual slavery as a weapon of fear and social control.
A deep-rooted fear of witchcraft persists in both urban and rural Nigeria that results in significant abuse of and violence towards children stigmatized as witches in some states in Nigeria. Many of these stigmatized children suffer imprisonment and torture through ‘exorcism’ ceremonies; are abandoned in forests or on the streets where they are vulnerable to trafficking; or are raped and sold for purposes of sexual exploitation.Nigerian women are also disproportionately exposed to modern slavery and sexual exploitation. Enslaved women and girls are often forced to undergo a ‘Juju’ oath-swearing ritual – a ritual based on swearing an oath over an item of special significance – that commits them to repaying the debt attributed to their enslavement. Research suggests that once women have paid off debts they were bound to by voodoo based rituals, it was not uncommon for them to recruit more women for exploitation.
An emerging trend in Nigeria is the recruitment of teenage girls and young women with unwanted pregnancies by dubious medical practitioners with promises of safe abortions and later detained against their will to give birth to their babies who are then forcefully taken away and sold to interested clients. This practice has metamorphosed into “baby factories” run by trafficking rings, which promise jobs or safe abortions to pregnant teenagers and young women, and later force them to give birth and surrender their babies for paltry sums of money. The babies are then sold to buyers for international or domestic adoption, rituals, slave labour or sexual exploitation. In some cases the girls are detained and subjected to forced sex by men specially hired to impregnate them to produce more babies.
The Government of Nigeria has signed most relevant conventions relating to modern slavery, including the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, the Palermo Protocol and the Forced Labour Convention No 29. 37 In 2003, the Trafficking in Persons (Law Enforcement and Administration) Act (TIP Act) was introduced and amended in 2005 to increase the penalties for perpetrators. Also in 2003, Nigeria introduced the Child Rights Act which criminalizes child trafficking. Despite the introduction of these laws, some states still apply Sharia law that treats victims as offenders. For example, the Shari’ah Penal Code Law, 2000 of the Zamfara State defines an offender as anyone who “does any obscene or indecent act(s) in a private or public place”. Such laws that treat victims of commercial sexual exploitation as offenders, conflicts with Nigeria’s national laws and the international conventions to which they are a party.