UNODC Releases Report on Trafficking of West African Women
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:58 AM

A recent report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), entitled Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa, highlights the problem of trafficking of West African women to Europe for forced prostitution.  Between 3800 and 5700 West African women are trafficked from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, and Guinea to Western European countries each year; the traffickers’ income is estimated at $152-$228 million annually.


Nigerian women, especially Edo women from Benin City, constitute the majority of West African women trafficked to Europe.  Many traffickers are themselves Nigerian women, though men are also involved.  Since organized crime often operates in ethnic-based networks, the report suggests that the reason Edo women are the most trafficked group is because Edo traffickers gained earlier access to the European market.


Women trafficked from West Africa are generally controlled by a debt bondage system.  Traffickers create a contract in which they loan victims $40,000-$55,000 in exchange for arranging illegal immigration, and victims are forced into prostitution to repay their debt.  Victims are frequently deceived about their destination and the nature of their work.  Traffickers also use religious rituals and charms to psychologically control their victims, and they disorient victims by moving them from city to city in a practice called “rotation.”


Repayment of debt often takes 2-3 years, after which victims are theoretically free.  However, many victims become psychologically trapped in the sex industry.  Some victims later assist traffickers with new arrivals and may eventually become traffickers themselves.


The UNODC also found that trafficking, including trafficking in women, has a significant negative impact on the rule of law in West Africa.  The flow of trafficked people and goods rivals the GDP of some countries in West Africa.  Corruption among government officials and law enforcement increases as organized crime groups gain more power and money through trafficking.


 Compiled from: “Sex Imported from Africa,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 21 July 2009; “Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2009).