From Nigeria to Italy: Europe’s unseen sex trade and the hidden humanitarian crisis

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Immigration in Italy, among other problems, is a very concerning issue which needs to be tackled at the source. It poses life-threatening situations for those who embark on an unknown journey. For many immigrants this is sadly the case.

Italy, for instance, has seen a staggering number of immigrants, especially women, coming from Nigeria. Many of them are promised a job and a future should they ever decide to move to Europe. The dream of a secure income and the possibility to help their families back home is what pushes them to leave their country of origin and settle abroad. The problem starts when they are approached by the so-called ‘sex-trade madams’ who bribe them and eventually buy them and turn them into slaves.

According to statistics, more than 1,200 women from Nigeria arrived in Italy by boat in 2014. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) agency’s spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo claims that his organisation “don’t have the official figures yet but estimates suggest as many as 80 percent of the women are earmarked for sex work.” The number is shocking and the need for a solution to stop sex-trafficking is paramount.

These women find themselves having a huge debt to repay to whomever helped them get to Europe and the only way to regain their not-long-ago-lost freedom is often to prostitute themselves. This is harder than many were told it would be as they receive a virtually non-existent percentage for their work.

Nigeria has turned out to be the hub of trafficking of girls and women in Africa, where allegedly over 100,000 women are brought to Italy and, more broadly speaking, to Europe every year.

Often those in the sex-trade front some money for the women’s trip and then take them to a traditional doctor where girls vow to repay the entire sum. Traditional beliefs are popular in many parts of the country, and this practice helps pressure women into staying in the business.

The NAPTIP, the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other related Matters, came about in 2003 with the aim of fighting human trafficking in Nigeria – its members aim to stop female enslavement and to increase awareness about the dangers and the false promises made by sex traffickers, who most of the times pose as benefactors.

Nigeria is among the poorest countries in Africa and many people are forced to flee their home and find jobs elsewhere. On top of that, the lack of education and investment in schools and other fundamental services is also a factor of migration. This makes it very easy for sex-trade madams to approach innocent girls and lure them into the sex trade without them really knowing what they’re stepping into.

Traffickers also find it easy to smuggle women into Italy as the ongoing fighting in Libya, which is where women often depart from, has strengthened criminal networks in the country. “In the absence of the rule of law, smugglers and traffickers alike operate virtually undisturbed” claims Di Giacomo. Italy grants residence permits to victims of human trafficking, according to Article 18 passed in 1998 – however, many of the victims are strongly discouraged due to psychological manipulation and physical abuse.

The increasing number of immigrants and trafficking victims in Italy is making it hard for authorities to keep track of all cases – this, on top of budget cuts, creates cracks in the system in which many cases of sex-trafficking are hidden.

The European community should contribute more to the problem by ensuring bigger funds to the cause. Italy simply cannot face this situation alone. It needs international support as it experiences larger immigration waves than any other northern country. This is still an ongoing debate within the EU.

Education is key – sex trafficking can be stopped by raising awareness within communities. The international community can also play a bigger role by helping stop corruption and ensuring money is spent in building schools and children receive a better education.


Luca Trovò is an English-Italian freelance translator in London. He has a BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures from the University of Bergamo, Italy, and an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Westminster in London. He is also an editor and translator for Equilibriarte. You can contact him and find out more on his Linkedin profile.


One thought on “From Nigeria to Italy: Europe’s unseen sex trade and the hidden humanitarian crisis

  1. You are amazing! I think your English may be better than mine! 😉 Keep up the great work, I am very proud of you my friend! You are so intelligent ☺


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