Some Nigerian women and girls are being forced into prostitution in neighboring Ivory coast after being deceived with promises of a better life outside of their country, according to a report by an international human rights group.
The report released Friday by Human Rights Watch also called on the Ivory Coast and Nigerian authorities to investigate the trafficking networks between the countries and to shut them down.
Nigeria’s government has passed anti-trafficking laws that focus on human smuggling to other West African countries, Europe and the United States but not Ivory Coast, the report said.
“These women and girls were sold dreams of migrating to better lives, but then found themselves in a personal hell” said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher at HRW.
Those interviewed by the rights group describe being misled by other Nigerian women into this modern day slavery with promises of work as hairdressers, tailors or other work.
A 27-year-old Nigerian woman who went by the name Ruth, told the rights group that she left Nigeria six years ago after being recruited by a woman who said that she sold fabrics in Ivory Coast. She said that after the second day of arrival the woman handed each of them a condom.
“What could I do? I had nobody backing me…so I did it” she said.
Another woman said that she was told she could sell clothes in Liberia, but was taken to Ivory Coast to instead work as a prostitute.
“Every night I have to do this. I don’t like it. I want to leave,” the woman said.
All of the women spoke to the rights group on condition of anonymity, for fear of their safety.
The rights group said it found five brothels with young Nigerian women in two small Ivorian towns. It said that the victims were between the ages of 15 and 17 or younger when taken to Ivory Coast.
Researcher Tirana Hassan said that most of the young women chose to leave Nigeria because they wanted to improve their lives.
“We found that most of these woman are from poor households, or they have been in abusive relationships. It is not a choice,” she said. “These women are tricked to find new opportunities to profit their lives. That’s the initial hook that the traffickers are using to lure them in.”
The report said that within two days of the women’s arrival they are forced to engage in prostitution because they are told they must pay a transport fee of about $3,000 to $4,000, even though a trip to Ivory Coast from Nigeria overland is only about $200.
Victims were then forced to have sex with 15 to 30 men a night at 1,000 CFA Fracs ($2) per visit.
Hassan said that Nigeria has launched initiatives to deal with the issue of trafficking for prostitution, but questions the protection of children in the West African country. “The major question should be why minors are being allowed to travel across boarders without parental guidance.”
She also said that not much is being done about the issue in Ivory Coast.
“At this point their is little done in the Ivory Coast. The dialogue is usually about child labor in the coffee business but women trafficking has not been in the agenda,” Hassan said.
HRW has called on Ivory Coast’s government to sign the U.N. Trafficking Protocol and pass a domestic anti-trafficking law.
Nigerian embassy staff in Abidjan told the rights group that they have repatriated “scores of women trafficked for prostitution, including dozens this year alone,” but that the problem is on the rise, the report said.
All of the victims told the rights group that they wanted to leave Ivory Coast and prostitution, but feared for their lives.
Three 17-year-old Nigerians who refused to engage in sex work were then locked in a room and denied food for days, according to the report.
“We can’t leave,” said and 18-year-old who in the report was called Faith. “The girls are scared.”