Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali, a government agency has admitted.
The girls, many of them underage, are often promised jobs in Europe but end up in brothels, said the government's anti-trafficking agency. The brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.
Nigeria's National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali in September to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.
They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls run by Nigerian 'madams' who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja, adding that they were between 20,000 to 40,000.
He, however, did not give details as to how the figure had been reached.
n a statement, Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices."
"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.
The trade is centred on the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery conditions," said Naptip.
Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Egede.
Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.
On arrival in Mali, they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.
Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger and Bukina Faso to Mali.
Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.
On Friday, Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja in Nigeria has condemned the abduction of 15 children by unidentified armed men on their way to school on the morning of 28 September and urged the government to hunt down the kidnappers.
"It is an unprecedented event. We are facing a terrible situation," Archbishop Onaiyekan told Fides.
The group of armed men stopped the school bus carrying children to the Abayi International School, in the state of Abia, one of the Niger Delta region states.
According to a government spokesman, the bandits have demanded a ransom of about 100,000 Euros in order to free the children.
"In that area, everyone is a victim of these bandits. Even the Church has suffered abductions of her members. For six days, we have heard no news of the accountant of Catholic University. However, there is no specific intention to attack the Church, as the bandits kidnap anyone, even local tribal leaders," said Archbishop Onaiyekan.
"It is the government's responsibility to stop the kidnappers. The area where this act took place is relatively limited, so I do not think it would be impossible to hunt them down," the archbishop said.
We Need Your Support
ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.
Please support our journalism by donating today.Donate