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Edo Women

In Edo State

Three hours drive from Lagos, Benin City, the bustling capital of Edo State proclaims itself as the "heartbeat of Nigeria." Billboards in the city center proudly celebrate 2,000 years of history and culture. The astounding growth of prostitution tells a different story. Edo is only one of 36 Nigerian states, but it has produced over 80% of the women trafficked to Europe, becoming the prostitution center of Africa.

At the entrance to Benin City.

Trafficking prostitutes began in the late 1980s, when Italy was importing immigrant laborers to feed a booming informal economy. Nigerian women began travelling to the central Italian region of Campania to pick tomatoes. Gradually, they were attracted to the large cities of Rome, Naples, and Florence, where they found a high demand for their charms. (So high, in fact, that on one occasion Italian prostitutes publicly protested against the encroachment on their turf by Nigerians.)

A decade of trade has produced solidly entrenched interests in Nigeria and Italy that will not easily be dislodged. Every morning, relatives flock to the post office to send off parcels to Italy. The Benin office of Western Union (where remittances arrive from Europe) is said to be the company's busiest in Nigeria. Some of the largest houses in Benin were built on the proceeds of trafficking-and everyone knows them. Few recent movies have been as popular as "Glamour Girls 2," which portrayed the sex trade to Europe in lurid and sensational terms.

An astonishing variety of small enterprises now depends on trafficking in Benin City: phony lawyers who set up "contracts" between traffickers and girls; self-styled evangelists who pray for the girls from charismatic churches; traditional doctors who use voodoo to hold the girls to their promise; and customs and immigration officials who take bribes to look the other way.

All receive a cut. All have a vested interest in the continuation of trafficking.

Source: The Advocacy Project

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