As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nigeria, and traffickers exploit victims from Nigeria abroad. Internal trafficking is prevalent with Nigerian perpetrators recruiting victims from rural areas, especially the country’s southern regions, for exploitation in commercial sex and forced labor in domestic work in cities such as Aboekuta, Calabar, Ibadan, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. Traffickers – including some community members – exploit women and girls in domestic service and sex trafficking, as well as boys in forced and bonded labor in street vending, domestic service, artisanal mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, textile manufacturing, begging, and in the tie-dye sector in the northwest and southwest of the country. Criminal elements recruit foreigners for labor trafficking within the country.
Rapid population growth drives the country’s informal education sector, including Quranic schools – most prevalent in northern regions – known as Almajiri, where some teachers abuse their students and coerce them to beg; in the latest available estimate from 2010, the government estimated as many as 9.5 million boys were studying in Quranic schools. Observers report worsening poverty related to the pandemic’s economic impacts may increase the enrollment of these schools, as well as the risks of exploitation of the children by teachers, businesses, and local community members seeking labor. Extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunity, corruption, insecurity throughout the country, and climate change-related pressure to migrate increase Nigerians’ vulnerability to trafficking.
Primarily in Cross River and other southern states, as well as from IDP populations in the north, illicit actors – including some church leaders – operate “baby factories,” which the government and NGOs describe as a widespread criminal industry in the country; experts state the phenomenon is driven by poverty and a lack of opportunity for young girls, as well as the demands of the illegal adoption market and cultural pressure for large families in Nigeria. Recruiters – or “mamas” – operating out of unregulated clinics work with enforcers to control the women through childbirth. The traffickers then sell the children, sometimes with the intent to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking. In southern Nigeria, especially Lagos, some women drug and “rent” their infants out to street beggars to increase the beggars’ profits.
In Fall 2020, personnel from the CJTF – a non-governmental self-defense militia receiving state government funding – providing security for an IDP camp in Borno State used two boys between the ages of 15 and 17 at a checkpoint; observers reported one of the boys was related to a local commander and the CJTF did not recruit the children. The Nigerian military coordinated operations with the CJTF intermittently to combat Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in northeastern Nigeria. Worsening insecurity in northeast Nigeria and pandemic-related movement restrictions prevented observers from accessing many areas in Borno State and reviewing other regions of concern for child soldier recruitment or use. During the previous reporting period, an NGO alleged soldiers in Giwa Barracks sexually exploited female detainees. Despite authorities releasing some individuals from detention, the government continued to detain children as young as five years old whom authorities suspected of being associated with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.
Nigerian criminal elements transport women and children to other West and Central African countries – including Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal – as well as to South Africa, where they exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking; experts report mixed migration networks were well organized and involved in both smuggling and trafficking operations. Observers reported traffickers and smugglers using the mixed migration route through Mali sold Nigerian girls into commercial sex in Mali.
Artisanal miners exploit West African children in forced labor in Nigeria, including in granite and gold mines. Observers have reported agricultural firms in rural Nigeria force Togolese to work in palm wine production in rural Nigeria. Nigeria’s ports and waterways around Calabar remain transit points for West African children subjected to forced labor in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. During the prior reporting period, NGO and media sources reported Nigerian traffickers compelled Cameroonian child refugees displaced by Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis staying in camps in Nigeria to work in forced labor in domestic service and, in some cases, into sex trafficking; there were allegations some parents were involved in selling their children.
Authorities identified Nigerian trafficking victims – often exploited by Nigerian traffickers – in countries in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East during the reporting period. Criminal groups and brothel owners exploit Nigerian women and girls in sex trafficking within Nigeria and throughout Europe, including in and around Paris, France; Turin and Ferarra, Italy; and Madrid, Spain, as well as Austria and Russia. NGOs reported that while Italy remained the primary destination for Nigerian trafficking victims, illicit networks have shifted to other destinations such as France and Spain. According to reports, 80 percent of women in Spain’s unlicensed brothels are victims of sex trafficking, with Nigerians forming a large percentage of that population. In France, Nigerian trafficking networks force women and girls into commercial sex around Paris and threaten victims’ families in Nigeria to maintain control; illicit recruiters target women and girls predominantly from impoverished families in Edo State and require them to take a loyalty oath to their traffickers. Nigerian women and children are recruited and transported to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East – including Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – as well as Central Asia, and exploited in sex trafficking or forced labor.
Historically, the majority of Nigerian trafficking victims in Europe have come from Edo State, via Libya; however, observers noted an increasing number originating in other states, to include Delta and Kano. Additionally, officials noted Abia, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Imo, and Kogi states are common origins for trafficking of victims to West Africa and Europe. Cases of labor trafficking involving domestic workers to the Middle East and Gulf States, as well as men coerced into sexual exploitation and drug running to Europe, increased during the reporting period, according to an international organization. In 2019, media and an international organization reported that networks consisting of illicit actors profiting from human trafficking and smuggling recruited women and girls from IDP camps in Northeast Nigeria for ostensibly legitimate jobs in Europe but exploited them in commercial sex in the northern Nigerien city of Agadez, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Europe.
Criminal actors increased their exploitation of Nigerians in Turkey in 2020, according to observers. Experts stated traffickers recruit victims directly from asylum or migrant reception centers in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Larger, well-financed, and highly organized criminal groups – some of which are linked to Nigerian criminal organizations or confraternities originating in Nigerian universities, including Black Axe, Eiye, or Maphite – are responsible for much of the sex trafficking to Europe, especially in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, Nigerian sex traffickers operate in highly organized criminal webs throughout Europe – known as the “Nigerian mafia” in Italy – and many former sex trafficking victims referred to as “madams” begin to work for their traffickers in exchange for leaving sex trafficking themselves. While some sex trafficking victims arrive in Europe believing they will be in commercial sex, traffickers coerce them to stay in commercial sex by altering working conditions and increasing victims’ travel debts. Some victims’ parents encourage them to obey their traffickers and endure exploitation to earn money.
Before departure for work abroad, or upon arrival in Europe, many Nigerian women participate in a traditional ceremony with a juju priest; some traffickers exploit this tradition and tell the women they must obey their traffickers or a curse will harm them, which prevents victims from seeking assistance or cooperating with law enforcement. Although the Oba of Benin – the religious leader of Benin City – revoked all previously administered juju spells and publicly renounced sex traffickers in 2018, reports continued to note traffickers performed the juju ceremonies in neighboring states such as Delta.
Illicit recruiters – including family members and increasingly pastors – in Edo and other southern states continue to target individuals seeking to travel by air to the Middle East, where wealthy individuals and other actors exploit those migrants in forced labor or commercial sex. Further, criminal elements exploit irregular migrants in forced labor and sexual exploitation at multiple stages of their journey through Nigeria, Niger, and Libya. Libyan and Nigerian illicit actors exploit Nigerians in Libya in forced labor in construction and agriculture, as well as in commercial sex in Benghazi, Misrata, Sabha, and Tripoli; traffickers keep victims in “control houses” or “prostitution camps” near Tripoli or Misrata until they can repay travel debts.
As of December 2020, there were approximately 2.1 million IDPs in the country and 305,000 Nigerian refugees in other countries; many of these IDPs and refugees are vulnerable to traffickers due to their limited access to economic opportunity and formal justice. Increasing violence stemming from expanding terrorist threats exacerbated the vulnerability of many IDPs and limited access throughout much of the country for observers to provide updates on past allegations of government officials exploiting IDPs in sex trafficking. As in past years, reports indicate other IDPs, aid workers, government officials, and security forces commit sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, in government-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Additionally, there were reports traffickers exploited IDPs moving to cities such as Gombe and Kano, as well as to neighboring countries to include Niger in forced labor.
During the reporting period, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA increased their practice of forcibly recruiting, abducting, and using child soldiers as young as 12 years of age as cooks, spies, messengers, bodyguards, armed combatants, and suicide bombers in attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. The groups continue to abduct women and girls in the northern region of Nigeria, some of whom they subject to domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and forced labor. Boko Haram routinely forces girls to choose between forced marriages to its fighters – for the purpose of sexual slavery – or becoming suicide bombers, with the terrorist organization frequently using drugs to control victims’ behavior. An NGO reported in prior rating periods children detained for association with armed groups in Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison in Borno state were confined with adult inmates who allegedly exploited the children in commercial sex rings in the prison.