Hand of a juju priest. Photo credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Battle to Dispel Nigeria's Juju Curses

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Human TraffickingPrevention

When lesions broke out all over Florence’s face, she was convinced that it was because she had crossed a juju curse, a form of black magic, cast on her before she left Nigeria for Russia.

For years, Nigerian women living in poverty have migrated to Europe with the promise of lucrative jobs. While some knowingly entered contracts as sex workers, few realized that they would become stuck in the industry due to juju curses.

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According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), nine out of 10 Nigerian women trafficked to Europe are from Edo state in Nigeria, where belief in juju to kill or maim runs deep.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:

Florence, 24, said she had not known she was headed for sex work six years ago when she agreed to a loan to fund a trip to work in Russia in a deal brokered by a pastor from her church.

Before leaving her home in Benin, the capital city of Edo, she was taken to a juju priest who used her hair and clothing to make a spell to bind her to her traffickers then she was taken to Lagos where she was raped before being sent to Russia.

“They took my pants. They took my bra. They took my hair from my armpits and also from my private parts,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She was convinced that juju was to blame for facial lesions that erupted in 2016 after she refused to give her captors any more money after paying them 45,000 euro ($53,000) and fled back to Nigeria.

Florence’s fear of black magic if she disobeyed her traffickers, went to the police or failed to pay her debt is typical for many women trafficked from Nigeria, experts say.

Many end up enslaved after signing a contract to finance their move, leaving them with debts that spiral into thousands of dollars and take years to pay off.

However, earlier this year Oba Ewuare II, leader of the historic kingdom of Benin, intervened. He gathered juju priests to a ceremony, where he dismissed all curses placed on trafficking victims.

While law enforcement and anti-trafficking campaigners hope this can make an impact, Kokunre Eghafona, a professor of sociology at the University of Benin who researches human trafficking, said the Oba is merely changing patterns in the sex trafficking trade.

As Nduka Nwanwenne, Benin zonal commander of Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency (NAPTIP), pointed out, young Nigerian women don’t just end up being trafficked to Europe these days.

Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Oman, are now the new destinations of choice for Nigerians selling sex, with many Nigerian women tricked into believing that they have secured jobs as domestic workers before being forced into sex work.

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