Human Trafficking: From Nigeria to Paris

Benin City is not on most of our radars, not in the news. In the south of Nigeria, it is not a priority for the Nigerian government which is busy with Boko Haram in the north. It makes it easy for traffickers who prey on the girls who live around there particularly in the rural areas near the city. They are well- organized groups, who prey on the poverty and the need for young girls—some as young as 12—to seek education and a better life. They are promised that in Paris that is what they will find, and “mamas” guide them through the process. They know that they will have to repay them for their passage and their schooling, and to ensure they will not default on their word, they are taken to a kind of which doctor which makes them swear they will and through elaborate rituals and ceremony drives home the point that should they not repay their debt, harm will come to their family. They are then given a “juju” a kind of amulet, reminder of what will happen if they do not do what they are told. When they arrive in Paris, they are locked into a room and learn of their fate. The first French word they learn is prostitute. They are at first escorted to a section of Paris mostly inhabited by Africans, and the “mama” who often herself started in the same way, has to negotiate for them until they know enough French to ask 20 euros for a trick, 100 for the night. They are stationed in white vans parked enough apart so a client can park in between. Later they are transferred to other more affluent areas, where customers are mainly white. They are there nude or clad in the thinnest thong underwear and a skimpy bra and work from sundown until 2am. There is no health care should they be hurt by clients or elsewhere, and should they get pregnant, the “mamas” performs the abortion. They cooperate or are told they could die and their families suffer. Afraid, believing in the power of the “juju”, cut off from all contacts, unaware of much given their background, they comply to a life that is a form of slavery—unless they can occasionally be rescued by one of the few organizations combatting trafficking.
If this happens in Paris, it happens in other cities. If Benin City is a source so are many other cities. In fact PBS ran a piece about another branch of this operation sending Nigerian girls to Italy. I read about the Paris operation in a recent issue of the French magazine Paris Match, a cross between Time and People and despite the moving interviews of the PBS segment, the Paris Match pictures were so graphic they are still before my eyes.
It’s not that knowing will help the lives of these young girls, it’s that the more we know, the more these activities are made public, the more a momentum against trafficking can build. Already this momentum has led to these girls being treated as victims and not perpetrators should they be arrested.