Roughly 20 000 Nigerian women and girls are being held and forced into prostitution in Mali. This is according to the Nigerian National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, who together with Malian authorities conducted a field study in Mali last year.
Most of the victims are from Edo State, the epicentre of this problem in Nigeria. Women are reportedly tricked by mainly female recruiters (madams) who promise them jobs in five-star restaurants in Malaysia, earning monthly wages of $700.
The sex industry in Mali has grown rapidly over recent years. According to media reports and people interviewed by ENACT, the booming artisanal mining industry in the north-east region of Kayes and in Sikasso, in Mali’s south-east, is to blame. This lucrative industry has attracted thousands of miners from the sub-region.
An International Organization for Migration (OIM) official told ENACT that activities like mining, ‘which require [a] strong presence of men involved in heavy labour, always require some services including some services for men’s [needs]’.
That is why most of the victims identified in Mali have been found at the 200-odd mining sites scattered across the two main mining regions. This despite the fact that Mali has criminalised human trafficking for sexual exploitation through the law 2012-023 of 12 July 2012. Victims are reportedly paid between 1 000 CFA or 1 500 CFA ($1.68 or $2.52) per client.
The exploitation of these victims has devastating consequences on their health. Many victims reportedly suffer from mental health problems and trauma because of the untold conditions in which they live and work.
Their trauma is compounded by the mystical ritual (juju) many undergo before leaving their countries of origin. During this ritual, victims take an oath not to reveal anything about their situation or about their recruiters. Failure to respect this engagement, they are told, would lead to their death or to the misfortune of their family back home.
Due to this trauma and the fear of being killed by criminals, most victims are reluctant to report their ordeals or seek refuge, says the OIM official. This is one of the main challenges they face in their fight against human trafficking, the official says.
Some victims, despite the risks they face, voluntarily accept being sent home. In 2017 the IOM helped 260 victims in their missions to return home, while 188 others were helped in 2018. The IOM in collaboration with the Nigerian government also offers returned victims opportunities to be reintegrated into their respective societies, with activities of their choice.
The trafficking of women for forced sex work has become one of the most prevalent forms of human trafficking in Mali. The Nigerian and Malian governments should increase their collaboration, including through information sharing of their respective judiciary polices. Both countries should also, with the support of international technical partners, train their law enforcement officers on how to identify victims.
Lastly, the Nigerian government should educate communities on the harmful nature of human trafficking for prostitution.
Mouhamadou Kane – Researcher, ENACT, ISS Project