Published on IPS, by Sabina Zaccaro, Sept. 11, 2009.
ROME, Sep 11 (IPS) – An alarming rise has been recorded in the number of Nigerian girls trafficked to Italy.
Last year 1,782 young girls from Nigeria arrived in Lampedusa, compared to 166 in 2007, human rights organisations say. Lampedusa, an Italian island 205 km from the Italian coast, located between Tunisia and Sicily, is used as a holding centre for migrants, particularly from Africa.
Human trafficking has become the third biggest source of income for criminal organisations globally, following drug and arms, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published earlier this year. Close to 80 percent of people trafficked, mostly women, are sexually exploited, the report says.
Women’s representatives from 25 countries have asked the G8 countries to lead global, concrete action against such gender-based violence. The G8 is a group of developed countries that include the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia …
… Aikpitanyi says she raised 40,000 dollars through her work for the people who arranged her trip to Europe. Criminal organisations lend women money to pay for the trip, and the women are meant to pay that back through their work. Invariably, they are forced into prostitution to pay the debt. “Today, girls are asked for 80,000 dollars,” Aikpitanyi says. “In many cases, it takes years (to pay back).
“Girls who are forced into prostitution say that for each woman victim of human trafficking, an Italian woman is safe from rape,” she said, because they are often approached by violent men who are potential rapists.
A girl who shared a room with Aikpitanyi was killed after reporting violence to the police. In 2003, when Aikpitanyi found the courage to escape her jailers and inform the police, she was assaulted and reduced to coma.
It was a long time before she could find protection from a women’s organisation and then build her own organisation, Girls from Benin City, named after a city in southern Nigeria. The group now helps many Nigerian victims or former victims of trafficking.
“The government of Nigeria is doing a lot to stop human trafficking,” Barry Bibata, minister for women’s promotion and child protection told IPS. “In 2003 we enacted a law providing for a very severe sentence for anybody caught trafficking in persons, and we set up an agency for the prohibition of human trafficking (Naptip) that secures shelters and protections to victims.
“These girls are often very young, they are not mature enough to decide about their future,” Bibata said. The Nigerian government is cooperating with Italy to identify victims, she said, assist them when they come back, and integrate them back within their family in their country of origin.
Italy offers protection to victims of trafficking under a law that provides residence permits to women who escape traffickers; 673 women received permits between 2000 and 2006. Victims can also call a free number (800 290 290). END/2009. (full text).