Mary, 18, from Benin City in Nigeria, cries on a dormitory bed in the safe house where she now lives, on the outskirts of Taormina in Sicily.
BENIN CITY, Nigeria (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For almost two decades, 42-year-old Patience earned a steady income sending girls from Nigeria to Europe for sex work, using black magic to stop the women from fleeing. Now she is afraid the illegal trade could kill her.
During a ceremony in March, Oba Ewuare II, leader of the historic kingdom of Benin in southern Nigeria, invoked curses on anyone who used witchcraft to aid illegal migration. Since then, anecdotal evidence suggests the trafficking has slowed although it is too soon for firm data to be collated.
At least nine in every 10 Nigerian women trafficked to Europe come from Edo, a mostly Christian state of 3 million people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC). Many came through the hands of women like Patience, who supplements her income as a hairdresser by selling girls into overseas sex work – but the leader’s ceremony has stopped that.
“I didn’t hear directly from his mouth but, through the radio and television. The Oba has stopped everything,” Patience told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her home in Benin, where she lives with her husband and four children.
“Whenever I go out, I meet girls who beg me to take them to Europe but I refuse because I don’t want to die. Everybody is afraid.”
“No one will ever come here again,” said David Ubebe, a juju priest who for eight years attended to a flow of women bringing girls to swear oaths at his shrine as well as phone calls from madams in Europe asking him to compel girls to pay them.
He used to earn an undisclosed income for each black magic ritual he performed, boasting his powers could make someone menstruate nonstop or lose peace of mind, but is nowhere to be too nervous to defy the ban. Meanwhile Patience is convinced a madam she knows in Europe has fallen ill because she defied the Oba by trying to extort more money from a girl and no one can diagnose her illness. “It is the effect of the curse placed by the Oba on those who cheat. That is the reason why she is sick,” she said.