Nigeria officials crack down on slavery

Nigeria officials crack down on human trafficking in shrines

October 1, 2006

By KATHARINE HOURELD The Associated Press

BENIN CITY, Nigeria — When authorities raided a traditional shrine and found blood-drenched magic charms along with a register listing young girls sold into prostitution, they were closing in on Nigeria’s first conviction for human trafficking.

The crackdown has exposed a sinister subtext to the African exodus to Europe, which is claiming hundreds of lives in dangerous sea or desert crossings. Women are lured with promises of good jobs in Europe, and end up enslaved by pimps, authorities say.

First they are brought to traditional priests who starve them and perform rituals to bind them to their future employer, said Orakwe Arinze, a spokesman for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons.

The women fear testifying against their captors, believing they will die or go mad for violating the oaths they have taken in the shrines.

But after a 2004 raid on a shrine in Benin City, 180 miles east of Lagos, Arinze’s agency publicly burned the charms used on six victims. The six subsequently testified against the woman who took them abroad, producing a landmark conviction.

Nine more convictions followed and 19 cases are pending, but Nigerian authorities estimate thousands of people are trafficked every year and only a small number of cases are reported.

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