News/Nigeria: Sex Export

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Subject: News/Nigeria: Sex Export
From: A. Jordan (annj@hrlawgroup.org)
Date: Thu Sep 02 1999 - 18:47:48 EDT


Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network
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## author : kitua@yahoo.com
## date : 31.07.99
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Newswatch, Nigeria's Weekly Newsmagazine
Updated July 27

Sex Export

Dirty details of young Nigerian girls being sent to Europe
for prostitution By Mudiaga Ofuoku

Itohan Emasuen ( real names changed to protect her), a
15-year-old virgin, who lived with her mother at Ogbeide
Street, Benin, was determined to complete her secondary
school education last year. But her mother had a different
plan. She wanted her to go to Italy instead to "do work", a
euphemism now popular in Benin, capital of Edo State, for
the booming sex-export trade.

Emasuen is from a family of five. Her father died in 1997.
Her mother kept the family going with what she earned
selling roast plantains at Uselu market. She considered that
sending her daughter to Italy was the surest way out of the
problem the family faced. But Emasuen refused. She would not
"do work" in Italy. .

One morning, Newswatch learnt in Benin, her mother
tongue-lashed her and threw her out of the family home.
Emasuen agonised over her motherFs action. Reluctantly, she
walked back to her hours later to say she was ready to do
her bidding and go to Italy.

Her sponsor,as the flesh merchants are called, was Osahon, a
man in his middle 40s. He specialises in procuring young
girls for prostitution in Torino and Palermo in Italy.
EmasuenFs mother pledged the late husbandFs plot of land and
only house to Osahon as collateral. The daughter was also
required to pay Osahon some amount of money later in Italy.

The virgin girl was also forced to take an oath that would
forbid her from making trouble with either her sponsor or
her "hosts" in Italy. The oath was prepared with her pubic
hair, one of her underwears and her finger and toe nails.
She also fulfilled two other conditions. Osahon used her as
a house girl for one month. He also slept with her to
"perfect" her. "Perfecting" a recruit is a standard rule, if
the sponsor is a man.

According to a family source, Emasuen wept bitterly the day
she was deflowered by her sponsor. But the mother consoled
her by painting a very rosy picture of how the familyFs life
would soon change for the better, for just that single
sacrifice the daughter had made. She told her that with
money from Italy, she would build houses in choice areas of
Benin and become herself a landlady like her mates in town.
Her brothers and sisters would live well and get good
education. And she, the mother, would also become a proud
owner of jewellery and expensive wrappers.

Emasuen left for Italy more than a year ago. But within nine
months of "doing work" in Torino, a den of Edo prostitutes
in Italy, the familyFs circumstances have changed
dramatically. The girl is now building a twin storey house
on Ogbeide Street (see picture). Not far from there is a big
plot of land she recently bought for an undisclosed amount
of money. Her mother no longer sells roast plantains. She
now supplies sacks of garri to customers around town with a
new pick-up van. "The woman is truly in heaven," said a
source in her street.

The achievements of Emasuen in just nine months of
prostitution in Italy are modest compared to those of
another teenage girl simply named Ame in Agho Street. She
too is based in Torino. Ame has an attractive house in Agho
estimated to cost N10 million. The compound has a borehole.
When there was an acute water scarcity in Benin as a result
of the two-month industrial action by workers of the Edo
State Urban Water Board, ESUWB, entire neighbourhood flocked
to AmeFs compound to fetch water.

Many of them asked Newswatch to thank Ame on their behalf
for her "goodness." Said one of the women with a child
strapped to her back: "I pray that my daughter," pointing to
the child on her back "should grow up soon to go to Italy
like Ame."

Ame has other property in town. She also owns several
commuter buses and a car mart where she sells used Mercedes
Benz, Toyota and other cars.

The face of Benin City, noted in the past for ancient houses
in some areas, is rapidly changing y thanks to teenage Benin
girls who are "doing work" in Italy.

It was authoritatively learnt that an average home in Benin
has a minimum of two girls in Italy. In many places in the
city, old family houses are being or have been replaced with
modern structures financed by these girls.

The girls have preferences for the government reserved area,
GRA, Ogida, Upper Sakponba, Evbuotubu, College Road,
Goodwill, Asoro, and other choice locations in the city.
They also own nearly 90 percent of the commuter buses that
ply the municipal routes of the city.

"These people...have tried and helped this country to grow.
All these cars and buses you are seeing today are brought in
by these people, whatever way they earn their money, whether
legitimately or through prostitution," said Nosakhare
Isekhure, chief priest of Omo NFoba Erediauwa, the Oba of
Benin. Isekhure told Newswatch in his palace that but for
the efforts of these people who go to Italy and other
European countries, there would have been greater economic
hardship and more crimes in Benin and other parts of the
country.

The girls also send their siblings to good secondary schools
and make their university education extremely comfortable.
Some of these kids attend Igbinedion Educational Centre, a
school for children of the rich. The girls also belong to
powerful secret societies, among them "Asigidi" and "Owegbe"
through which they flaunt their social connections and
wealth. Nobody who crosses a memberFs path is ever spared
the ordeal of at least two days in detention at the Criminal
Investigation Department, CID, Benin.

Said Nosa Osagiede, a secondary school teacher in Benin:
"ItFs very easy for a member to deal with you. She goes to
the CID and tells a policeman: fYou have to handle one
fellow for me, officer. I am an Akatarian'." "Akatarian" is
the popular term in Benin for one who has been to Europe,
particularly Italy, and made so much money. The "Akatarian"
girl gives the officer the address of the "offender" and
some dollars and he does her bidding.

The girls flaunt their wealth at wedding ceremonies and
funerals. Fridays provide the girls, popularly called
"Italos", a chance to show off. The "Italos" hire "home
girls" as mourners at funerals. They are paid generous fees.
But a lucky home girl hired as a mourner may get sponsored
to Italy for prostitution eventually. "If you see one
mourning, you know it is a typical case of the outsider who
cries louder than the bereaved," said a source. Newswatch
confirmed the interesting spectacle on Uselu-Ugbowo Road,
May 28.

"It is such a serious problem we have in Benin now, I mean
this Italy syndrome," said Dem Omokhodion, a senior lecturer
in the department of sociology and anthropology, University
of Benin, UNIBEN. Omokhodion, a Bini, is not the only person
who finds the trend particularly worrisome. His fellow Bini
under the umbrella of the Edo Cultural Association in Italy,
ECA, are worried by the increasing number of young Edo girls
who now abandon school for prostitution in the streets of
Italy. In a recent letter to Erediauwa, their monarch, the
association appealed to him to do something about the matter
because the teenage girls were bringing "disgrace" on Edo
people in Italy.

The case of teenage girls is pathetic enough, but Newswatch
learnt in Benin city that husbands send their wives to "do
work" in Italy too. A housewife who left for Venezia in
Italy in 1997 came back last year and bought a villa in GRA
for the family. She also bought the husband who sent her
there a Mercedes Benz car and then went back "to work."

"In most cases," said a local prostitute at Iyaro, "the men
prefer their wives to have two or three kids by them first
before leaving for Italy, because they believe y and this
has been found to be true y that after their wives have
slept with so many men they might not be able to bear
children again. When they return all they have for the rest
of the marriage is just fun."

An Italy-bound girl is also required to learn to read and
write in the one or two months it takes to get her there by
the sponsor, because a good number of the girls are
illiterates. They must also learn to sign the signatures of
the persons whose travel documents they intend to use for
the Italy trip. These rules are necessary because a girl
might be asked relevant questions at the point of arrival in
Europe.

The scramble to Italy among Benin girls has brought business
boom for both oracles and pastors of some pentecostal
churches in the city. The girls consult oracles to know
their fate in Italy. If the oracle says a girl cannot make
it in Italy, she petitions "our ancestors" to reverse the
bad fate. An oracle, in the circumstance, can ask for as
much as N10,000.00 to get "the ancestors" to intercede on
her behalf.

"Even the churches are not left out. Pastors, " a source
very knowledgeable in the business, told the magazine, "play
oracles in some churches nowadays. They ask these girls to
bring fowls, eggs, goats, yams and palm oil most times. Now
it is very common to see a pastor performing sacrifice, and
carrying a portion of the magic to the main road or
T-junction in the dead of night. Sometimes the pastor
carries the magic into the forest where he asks the girl to
strip and bathe her with it."

Desperate to get their girls there, some parents go beyond
merely pledging their houses as collateral. They also sell
them outright. Sam Igbe, a Benin chief who led a delegation
of his colleagues to Ibrahim Coomassie, the then
inspector-general of police in Lagos, over the 65 Edo women
deported from Italy for prostitution, said of the trend:
"Some of us sell our land, some our houses for about
N400,000 to send our children abroad. We are embarrassed and
we want to do something about it; either stopping it all or
doing something so that more of our women should not go."
Seventy-four Nigerians were actually deported. The rest came
from Delta, Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Osun and Cross River
States.

Immigration officials allegedly collude with the sponsors {
the sex ring masters. They are said to ask for between
N150,000.00 and N200,000.00, if the travel documents used by
a recruit belong to another person. If they are validly
owned by the recruits, the officials allegedly ask for
between N80,000.00 and N100,000.00.

"Once the deal is sealed," said one of the deportees who
spoke to Newswatch on condition of anonymity, "the officials
go out of their way to meet their own end of the deal by
taking us into the plane themselves. We normally take
Alitalia flight."

One Peters, an assistant public relations officer of the
immigration department, denied the allegation. "ItFs not
true that our officials collude with the prostitutes," he
said. Peters declined to tell Newswatch his full name.

In addition to Palermo, Torino and Venezia, the other
Italian cities and towns where the girls end up for
prostitution are Rome, Napoli, Milan, Florence, Genova,
Genoa, Padova and Verona. Some of them are also taken to the
Belgian cities of Brussels, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ghent and
the coastal town of Blankenburge.

In the Netherlands, they are mainly found in Amsterdam. On
their arrival there, the girls or their procurers call their
"hosts." The girls are then picked up by these hosts and
taken to different brothels.

"It is not easy to find these prostitutes for deportation,"
Michel Deelen, press attache at the Dutch Embassy, Lagos,
told Newswatch.

It is a different ball game with Italian hosts, made up of
pimps and clients. There are two types of clients: those who
have made advance booking for the girls, and those who come
to negotiate with the agents to take the girls away for
"work." With the second group, the transaction goes
something like this: "Sir, I donFt know you, but I do have a
girl I want to sell. She is good-looking, you can see for
yourself. You pay $60,000" A hard-bargaining client may have
the girl for not less than$50,000, if her "vital statistics"
are okay.

"Sponsors," said an insider, "prefer to sell to strangers
because they make a lot of profit from that." Isekhure told
Newswatch:

"ItFs so dehumanising. ItFs like a cartel. There are those
who recruit over from here and hand over to a final person
in Italy. ItFs a chain of transaction." But in some cases
the girls in Italy pay the "sponsors" over there to come
home to Benin to bring their younger ones to beef up their
earnings for their families.

"It is a modern form of slavery. They are used as slaves by
gangs that make a lot of revenue from them," said Christian
Van Driessche, the Belgian ambassador to Nigeria. He told
Newswatch in his office in Lagos, that the gangs in his
country were dominated by Albanians. Time magazine of
December 7, 1987, reported that " a foreign prostitute in
the Netherlands can earn up to $100,000.00 a year for her
procurer but usually gets only a small portion of that for
herself."

The girls are also used as house slaves in Italy. They are
locked up by their "masters" or "madams" during the day and
released for "work" only at night. "We arrive there from our
squatter camps around 10.30 p.m. dressed in our transparent
outfits. By 11.30 p.m., market has started fully. A good
market night can fetch you between $300 and $500. If you are
so lucky you might get up to $800. But thatFs very rare. But
you hand what you have realised to madam. Sometimes you
donFt even get up to $100. Depends,"said a source.

If the sex hawkers also called "shentros" are under the
control of "madam", the agreement is to pay back between
$50,000 and $70,000 over time from daily earnings. The
prostitutes are sometimes under the control of their
boyfriends who may also have come to Nigeria from Italy to
recruit them. Some of them also sponsor their boyfriends
there to live with them in their squatter camps.

The girls celebrate their "freedom" from their madams or
masters by holding parties. Drinks and food are served
lavishly and a "certificate of discharge" is issued to the
"graduand." They now become their own "mistresses", and are
therefore free to come home to Benin to recruit young girls
themselves. "Sometimes, a fshentroF can send money to her
mother in Benin to send in her younger sister," said a
source.

The prostitutes have spaces allocated to them for hawking.
More often than not, there is a clamour among them for good
space in order to get customers. The competition generates
so much antagonism and rancour, often leading to frequent
fierce fights in which "knives, bottles and sharp objects
are used." Some fight with fetish means to snatch customers
from their fellow hawkers.

Some of the extremely desperate ones among the girls employ
diabolical means to harm their rivals. They write to their
mothers back home to get a witch doctor to prepare black
magic for them. These are sent to them by special postage to
fight their rivals with. In some cases, the witch doctor is
flown there by the girl to prepare a special black magic
called "Owuho", named after the he-goat. A rival harmed by
the juju smells like a he-goat and is, therefore, shunned by
prospective customers.

Parents also send their wards in Italy charms that will make
their customers spend more money on them. These objects are
sent every day at the NIPOST, Airport Road, Benin. For 20
minutes recently, a Newswatch reporter watched as such
objects, including anointing oil, powder, perfumes and some
indescribable objects were packaged along with video and
audio cassettes and sent off as special packages to girls in
Italy.

A. O.Modupe, area postal manager, refused to tell Newswatch
how much the post office makes from such services. He
directed the magazine to Pat Ofeinmu, the public relations
manager, who also said he could not comment. But a source
close to the two senior staff said: "What you saw is exactly
what is happening now. It forms the major source of our
revenue today. We make up to a million naira a week sending
those objects alone. Normal postal services are dead
throughout the country because of the e-mail revolution. But
thank God, we in Benin are lucky." The female source who
begged for anonymity went on: "Those cassettes you saw bear
instructions on how to use the charms. The instructions are
in the Bini language, so that if the Italians listen to the
cassettes, they wonFt understand."

The witch doctors flown to Italy "equip" the girls with
charms that can lure customers to them. "Also when the
relationship between a girl and her customer has progressed
to a certain level, the prostitute may put love potion in a
meal she prepares for him. The white man becomes hooked to
her in love like an addict to his drug. The girl ends up
marrying him, and can now stay in Italy unmolested. The
white man is always lured to Benin for the traditional
marriage," said a source very close to some of the 65
deportees.

Newswatch learnt that there were over a dozen such marriages
in Benin last year. Tina Phillips, one of the deportees, for
example, wanted to marry a white man when she was picked up
by the Italian police and put on the flight to Nigeria. She
told the Weekend Observer in Benin: "I feel bad because the
Nigerian ambassador in Italy refused to give visa to my
white man who wanted to come to Nigeria to marry me." Van
Driessche, the Belgian ambassador told Newswatch " the Edo
form the bulk of Nigerians in mixed marriages with Belgians
in my country."

The recent deportation, according to a source among the
deportees, was caused mainly by some Italian wives who
complained to the Italian authorities that their husbands
were being snatched away from them by Nigerian prostitutes.

In its edition of September 13, 1993, Time wrote: "The dusty
roads around Naples have been dotted with Nigerian
prostitutes who beckon to motorists from clumps of bushes."
The American magazine quoted one Vincenzo Caterini, an
Italian restaurant owner as complaining that, "These
Africans have destroyed our town and our livelihood. They
live surrounded by trash. Their settlements breed rats.
Everyone knows the women are whores."

Sometimes the girls have what they call pyjamas party, to
entertain their white customers and boyfriends in orgies,
booze, and hard drugs. "ItFs usually fun," said a source.
But it goes beyond that at other times. The girls are also
procured to have sex with dogs and gorillas in front of
cameras. Sex with animals pay the girls more than sex with
human beings . A prostitute may get as much as $10,000.00
for sex with a dog. The money goes to her master or madam,
if she hasnFt been "discharged."

"I have heard that myself, and my wife has also told me of
it. We are both terrified. I suspect that some people are
doing some studies on the sexual powers of the black race.
It gives them fun, excitement, to watch animals having sex
with human beings. And who knows whether they are not
experimenting on fertilization and reproduction, that is,
whether they are not trying to test whether the eggs of
humans and the sperms of animals can produce a viable
offspring?" Omokhodion of UNIBEN, wondered.

On the dangers involved in such an unnatural indulgence,
Osato Giwa-Osagie, a professor of gynaecology and former
personal physician to Ibrahim Babangida, former president of
Nigeria, said: "They are two: One, sexually transmitted
diseases can be passed from one species to the other.
Second, apart from the sexually transmitted diseases that we
already know, like bacterial and virus infections, there are
some other infections that animals are able to withstand and
sustain without dangers to themselves, but which the human
being is unprepared for, and which, by this unusual contact,
may now be passed on to the human."

He went on: "And of course, we all heard the story about the
possibility that HIV may have been transmitted from animals
to man in the west or Central Africa. The people who are
engaged in this unnatural act are exposing themselves to
dire consequences which may not be evident now, but can
become obvious at a later date."

A male source in Ogbeide Street who asked for anonymity told
Newswatch that his sister was a victim of a strange illness.
"We sold our fatherFs house, together with his tomb, to send
her to Palermo. She was there for three years, but couldnFt
come back with anything. Her mates were bringing home buses,
cars and other good things, but she chose to bring home one
strange illness. There are warts and craw craw all over her
body. We have spent over N50,000 treating her without
success. We will soon ask her to vomit all the money. She
told me two secrets. She said a rival harmed her with black
magic. She also admitted that a dog had sex with her. Now
she is at a witch doctorFs place where we are still trying
our last help for her. I would have liked to take you there,
but it would be too embarrassing for her and the family,"
said the source.

In some cases, some of the girls either die and are buried
there by their colleagues, or come back home to Benin to
die. In either case, a lavish funeral is usually held for
the victim by her colleagues in Italy.

Apart from disease-related deaths, the prostitutes are
sometimes killed by Italian criminal gangs. One Ivie who
lived on Wire Road before she left for Palermo in 1997, was
allegedly killed by the mafia last year. After being raped
and stabbed all over her torso, she was pushed down from a
fast-moving car one night. Her mutilated body was picked up
the following morning by her colleagues. Candle wax was
found in her private part. She was given a decent burial
there, after which her colleagues sent a picture of her
mutilated body to her parents. According to one edition of
Echo News, a Nigerian publication in Italy, "nearly a dozen
such gruesome deaths occurred in Torino in 1994.

The girls are also subjected to frequent police raids and
deportation, especially if "we refuse to sleep with them for
free," an insider said. There are also cases of girls
allegedly "deported" by the Italian authorities but who are
never received at any of the Nigerian airports. "Such girls,
in truth, may have been quietly killed there," said an
immigration source.

Officials of the Italian embassy in Lagos refused to speak
to Newswatch on the sex ring. "The ambassador is too busy to
attend to you," a female secretary said each time Newswatch
asked to see or speak to the ambassador .

The girls are sometimes duped by their Edo boyfriends and
relations. Newswatch learnt the prostitutes usually save
their daily earnings with their boyfriends. When they have
saved a substantial amount of money, they give it to their
boyfriends to acquire property in Benin for them. But some
of the young men are smart alecs. They buy the property for
themselves alone instead with the money, marry "decent"
girls, and then relocate to other parts of Europe or the
United States.

"Sponsors" also dupe recruits, 419-style. After they have
received so much money from the girlsF parents, they take
the recruits to Cote dF Ivoire or Ghana where they ditch
them. Newswatch learnt that 60 percent of the cases
entertained by a native court at 2nd Junction in Benin which
meets only on Sundays are related to such frauds.

A married woman taken to Italy by a female sponsor, who paid
her little money after procuring the woman for sex with a
dog, took the matter to that court where she pleaded that
justice should be done because she was dying from a strange
illness. "Now, look at all my body, I am very sick, and
canFt cure myself," she complained and wept bitterly. The
case is still on.

In spite of these problems, the girls keep going to Italy
for prostitution. The magazine learnt from several reliable
sources last week that more than 50 percent of the 65
deportees are already back in Italy. Some of them were
allegedly assisted by some staff of the Italian embassy.
Some of the girls have written to their parents confirming
their return to Italy. Tina Phillips is alleged to be one of
them.

Why the craze by Edo girls for prostitution in Italy and
other countries of Europe? Sources say it is caused by the
biting poverty in Nigeria. "My opinion," said Christian Van
Driessche, "is that it is a problem of poverty. We have more
visa requests from Edo citizens than other Nigerians." But
why do the Edo citizens form the majority? Are they the only
Nigerians who are poor? Van Driessche: "Well, I donFt know.
It beats my imagination."

But Reuben Abati, a columnist on The Guardian newspaper,
argued: "When the leaders themselves are prostitutes, what
do you expect small girls to do? The girls are going to
Italy because Edo leaders at home are not doing anything for
their own people. Every Edo man who makes it in Lagos or
Abuja simply minds his own business. That is not how to
build a kingdom without prostitutes." Said Omokhodion: "They
(girls) want to be fupperF, they want to be seen to be
princesses and queens, to be above everyone else. They
worship money and fashion here."

The craze to go to Italy actually began in the late 1980s.
Some young Benin girls were taken there by Nigerian pimps to
work in factories and do household chores for "kind"
Italians. When they arrived there, they found that they had
been deceived. To escape deportation or suffering, most of
them resorted to prostitution.

"But they managed to come back home with so much money after
they converted it to the naira. The notion soon spread
around town that their people were plucking dollars on the
streets of Italy. Since then, itFs no longer a matter of
being lured there under false pretences, but of girls
begging to be taken there by sponsors. Only illiterates were
recruited then. Now university graduates are trooping to
Italy," said a Newswatch source.

Erediauwa, to whom the ECAI wrote a letter recently on the
issue, also feels scandalised on behalf of his subjects and
the nation. In fact, Coomassie, former inspector-general of
police, and the Nigerian ambassador to Italy wrote to the
Oba. Addressing a forum attended by his chiefs, Erediauwa
said the problem had brought "national and international
disgrace to our fellow folks of Edo State, and more
especially of Benin." What upsets him most today is the
constant emphasis that "Benin indigenes are in the largest
proportion of all the nationals in this business overseas."

Isekhure, ErediauwaFs most powerful and respected chief, is
also disturbed by the problem. "It is troubling that a time
may come when you might not find a marriageable girl in Edo
State, "said the chief priest.

What is being done? The chief priest said the palace had
already begun a public enlightenment campaign to discourage
parents from sending their daughters overseas for
prostitution. "After all, many of those who are rich in
Nigeria today never went to Italy," he said, adding , "we
are also praying that the ancestors should touch the souls
of these girls, and of their parents who sell their houses
for this purpose."

Some parents themselves are also concerned. There are cases
of sons and daughters who sold their parentsF property
behind their backs and went to Italy with the money. A woman
in Yoruba Street, Benin, told Newswatch that her son wanted
to sell his fatherFs only house after his death, but that
she stopped it when she inscribed on the wall the sign:
"THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE." In Benin today, this sign is
common on the walls of houses.

But efforts to discourage the sex export began sometime ago.
Bassey Asuquo, then a colonel and military administrator of
Edo State, tried with Itang, his wife, to wage a war against
the business as far back as 1996. But the Association of Edo
Prostitutes in Italy, AEPI, wrote several harshly worded
letters to him and his wife warning them to stop the
campaign. They did.

Jeremiah Useni, a retired lieutenant-general and former
federal capital territory minister, condemned the trade in
1997. Speaking in Abuja at a fund-raising ceremony organised
by "Daughters of Abraham Foundation," a non-governmental
organisation set up by Julie, his wife, to rehabilitate
prostitutes, Useni promised that the Provisional Ruling
Council, PRC, would discuss the matter.

It would appear, however, that very serious efforts are
being made internationally about the problem of
prostitution. The Beijing Declaration of the 4th UN World
Conference on women stressed the urgent need to take action
against "the specific form of violation of human rights of
women."

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation
is now regarded as an international organised crime by a
number of European nations. A European Union, EU,
ministerial conference was held in The Hague April 26, 1997
on the problem. The Dutch government provided the initiative
for the meeting. The conference was attended by Bulgaria,
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Romania,
Cyprus, Slovakia and Slovania. The countries "reaffirmed
their commitment to maximise cooperation in the fight
against trafficking in human beings, and against trafficking
in women in particular in relation to countries of origin
and of transit."

The Netherlands ministry of justice took specific steps that
same year. Winnie Sorgdrager, minister of justice,
introduced a bill in parliament to curb it and improve the
position of the prostitutes in her country. Her predecessor,
Benk Karihats, in collaboration with Job Cohen, secretary of
state, took a step further to set up a vice squad named Unit
Against Human Smuggling. The squad cracks down on the pimps
and clients responsible for smuggling the prostitutes, "most
of whom come from the Benin city region" to the Netherlands.
The maximum penalty for trafficking in people in that
country is eight years. There were 80 trials in 1996; 139 in
1997 and 227 last year. Official figures for the current
year are not yet released.

Van Driessche told Newswatch that he also deports the
prostitutes caught in his country. He refuses many of them
visa when they come without proper explanation about what
they are going to do in Belgium. The ambassador said: "A
group from Benin came to me to say I should stop deporting
their daughters, and I asked them: fYou want your daughters
to be slaves in my country?F I told them that they are used
as slaves, and so I will continue to deport them."

Hamisu Isah, former commissioner of police in Edo State,
said of about 700 Nigerian prostitutes deported in 1996, 500
were from Benin alone. Of that number 350 were young girls.
Italian authorities now scrutinise mails from Nigeria,
especially from Benin.

Sixty-seven parcels containing charms and fetish objects
with their audio and video cassettes were returned two weeks
ago. Seventy other parcels followed last week. "The new
development is a big threat to our business," said a female
source at the Airport Road, Post Office, Benin, last week.
But the parents and relations of the prostitutes now use
courier services to send parcels to their daughters and
relations.

Many of the girls intending to go to Italy for the trade
have also discovered a new route. They pose as petty traders
along the border at Ilella village in Sokoto State. They
pretend to be buyers and sellers of provisions and local
fruits such as mangoes and oranges. Gradually they move to
Kornni town in Niger Republic on motor bikes, where they
work for a few months as prostitutes at "Campement Hotel".
>From there they find their way ultimately to Italy through
Libya.

On the home front also, the parents are lobbying the ObasFs
chiefs to advise him to stop making an issue of their "only
means of survival now." They are also petitioning "the
ancestors" to make the respected monarch change his mind.

"I think no matter what people do or say to stop the trade,
it will continue to boom as long as that spirit of
competition among the parents persists. Some parents even
appeal to the ancestors to give them daughters." Newswatch
reliably learnt that EmasuenFs mother is preparing Osaro,
her second daughter, who is almost 13, to go and "do work"
in Torino.

Reported by Olu Ojewale, Doyin Adegbulugbe and Joris
Casteren in Amsterdam.

Ann Jordan
Director, Initiative Against Trafficking in Persons
International Human Rights Law Group
1200 18th St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
P:202-822-4600
F:202-822-4606
www.hrlawgroup.org


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