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The Challenge of Resettling those who Have Been Trafficked, with Special Reference to Nigeria — Sr Eugenia Bonetti MC, President, Slaves No More

The Challenge of Resettling those who Have Been Trafficked, with Special Reference to Nigeria — Sr Eugenia Bonetti MC, President, Slaves No More

Sr Euge­nia Bonet­ti MC, Pres­i­dent, Slaves No More

Paper pre­sent­ed at

The Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my of Social Sciences
Human Traf­fick­ing: Issues Beyond Criminalization

17 – 21 April, 2015
Casi­na Pio IV, Vat­i­can City

1.    Intro­duc­tion

I wish to express my grat­i­tude to the Pres­i­dent of the Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my of Social Sci­ences Pro­fes­sor Mar­garet S. Archer and Chan­cel­lor Bish­op Marce­lo Sánchez Soron­do for invit­ing me to take part in this com­pre­hen­sive and impor­tant Ple­nary Ses­sion ded­i­cat­ed to exam­in­ing Human Traf­fick­ing: Issues Beyond Crim­i­nal­iza­tion. It is an hon­our and plea­sure to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share with you some of my expe­ri­ences in the field of res­cu­ing and rein­te­grat­ing vic­tims into day-to-day life after peri­ods of enslave­ment and exploitation.

I am a Con­so­la­ta mis­sion­ary sis­ter and I spent 24 years of my mis­sion­ary life in Kenya. In 1993 I was asked to return to Italy to work as a mis­sion­ary in my own coun­try. I began work­ing with immi­grant women, first in the north­ern city of Turin where I encoun­tered the bru­tal­i­ty of human traf­fick­ing for sex­u­al exploita­tion and its dev­as­tat­ing effects on the vic­tims. Since Jan­u­ary 2000 I have served in Rome as the Coor­di­na­tor of the Nation­al Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office for the Ital­ian Con­fer­ence of Women Reli­gious (USMI); and since Decem­ber 2013, as the Pres­i­dent of the asso­ci­a­tion “Slaves No More”. The main aim of this asso­ci­a­tion is to assist traf­fick­ing vic­tims return to their home coun­tries with dig­ni­ty – assist­ing rein­te­gra­tion and reset­tle­ment into day-to-day life through the means of per­son­al­ized finan­cial projects and support.

My con­tri­bu­tion to today’s ses­sion is drawn from my many years of per­son­al com­mit­ment and expe­ri­ence work­ing along­side with hun­dreds of women reli­gious and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in Italy and abroad to cre­ate a strong and effec­tive net­work in response to the emer­gency of mod­ern-day slav­ery. Traf­fick­ers are very well organ­ised in iden­ti­fy­ing, trap­ping and trans­port­ing their vic­tims – or “goods to be sold” as they see them – so we, sol­diers in the bat­tle against human traf­fick­ing, must be equal­ly respon­sive, strate­gic and com­mit­ted in order to res­cue and save such vic­tims. Even more, we must build on our efforts to pre­vent traf­fick­ers from mak­ing vic­tims of the mul­ti­tudes of poor and vul­ner­a­ble woman and chil­dren around the globe in the first place.

We must col­lec­tive­ly acknowl­edge that slav­ery still exists in the year 2015 – and this is a great shame for our mod­ern soci­ety. More­over, it is a chal­lenge for our insti­tu­tions and for all of us as cit­i­zens con­cerned for the wel­fare of each per­son cre­at­ed in God’s image – and not to be treat­ed like a slave. We are also asked to offer our con­tri­bu­tion to cre­ate a soci­ety free from all forms of slav­ery, vio­lence and exploita­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, sev­er­al mil­lion peo­ple, main­ly women and chil­dren, are still treat­ed like com­modi­ties that can be bought and sold in broth­els, bars and the main and back streets of our towns and vil­lages. No woman or child choos­es to be a pros­ti­tute, but too often in today’s world they find them­selves in that bru­tal and life-drain­ing cir­cum­stance due to pover­ty and vulnerability.

It is impor­tant to note that mod­ern-day slav­ery takes many forms – traf­fick­ing for ille­gal child adop­tion and beg­ging, organ smug­gling, child sol­diers, unpaid/unfairly paid labour and domes­tic servi­tude, forced mar­riage and sur­ro­gate moth­ers, as well as many oth­er forms. Giv­en my spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ence and engage­ment with the top­ic over the last 22 years, my inter­ven­tion today will focus on the phe­nom­e­non of forced pros­ti­tu­tion of women and chil­dren, and the chal­lenge of reset­tling those who have been traf­ficked, with a spe­cial ref­er­ence to Nigeria.

2.    My Entry into the “World of the Night”

The call to this min­istry for traf­ficked women (main­ly from devel­op­ing coun­tries) came to me more than 20 years ago – in 1993 – when after being a mis­sion­ary in Kenya for 24 years, I was asked to return to Italy for a new mis­sion­ary chal­lenge: to work with immi­grant women in the north­ern city of Turin. There, a Niger­ian woman enslaved by the “sex indus­try” came to the Car­i­tas Drop-In Cen­tre where I was serv­ing. Sick, in Italy ille­gal­ly with no right to med­ical care, she turned to our Car­i­tas Cen­tre for help. Upon hear­ing her cry for help, my mis­sion­ary life changed radically.

Her name was Maria; she was 30 years old and the moth­er of three chil­dren she had left behind in Nige­ria. She came to Italy hop­ing to get a job to sup­port her chil­dren, and much of the rest of her fam­i­ly. Instead she was forced on the street – a vic­tim of the slave trade that was just start­ing to emerge in Italy. At that time, I had no knowl­edge that thou­sands of young women were being export­ed, like com­modi­ties, from poor coun­tries to meet the demands of an afflu­ent west­ern soci­ety where every­thing can be bought and sold – even the body of a young for­eign girl.

I helped Maria with her basic needs, while in return she helped me to enter into the com­plex­i­ty of the “world of the night and of the streets”. Grad­u­al­ly I came to under­stand the mech­a­nisms of traf­fick­ing and traf­fick­ers who take advan­tage of the pover­ty and lack of edu­ca­tion of young girls in many coun­tries of ori­gin, entrap­ping and exploit­ing them for lucra­tive gain. More­over, I heard the cry for help from these vic­tims, like Maria, and I came to under­stand their deep suf­fer­ing and humil­i­a­tion in being forced to sell their bod­ies, as well as their youth and their dreams.

As a woman and as a mis­sion­ary, I was offend­ed and indig­nant to see the lives of so many young women – dream­ing for a bet­ter future for them­selves and their fam­i­lies – destroyed by oth­ers’ lust, greed and pow­er. Very soon, I turned to oth­er nuns who were also touched by the phe­nom­e­non and ready to open the “holy doors” of their con­vents to hide and pro­tect traf­fick­ing vic­tims run­ning away from their tor­tur­ers, pimps and madams.

Since then, the pages of my jour­nals are filled with details of the thou­sands of vic­tims I’ve encoun­tered – so many dif­fer­ent names, but all with sim­i­lar hor­rif­ic sto­ries. Many I met on the street at night and took into safe hous­es. Oth­ers I met in Car­i­tas Cen­tres ask­ing for help. Oth­ers still I met in a cen­tre for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and repa­tri­a­tion (Ponte Gale­ria) on the out­skirts of Rome, await­ing depor­ta­tion because their traf­fick­ers stole their legal doc­u­ments, mak­ing them undoc­u­ment­ed and ille­gal. Still oth­ers, in hos­pi­tals severe­ly injured after beat­ings at the hands of pimps, jeal­ous clients or ran­dom street violence.

Some cas­es of (extra)ordinary vio­lence include:

Mer­cy, forced to work the streets of the Ital­ian port city of Bari. At 28, the moth­er of two young chil­dren left behind in Nige­ria, she was shot one night by a pass­er-by. The bul­let pierced her spine and left her paral­ysed. Our net­work of women reli­gious in Italy and Nige­ria assist­ed her in return­ing home in a wheel­chair so she could see her fam­i­ly again – espe­cial­ly her chil­dren. She died a few months lat­er, on an East­er Sun­day. She com­plet­ed her Way of the Cross.

Jen­nifer, 21, is one of the most recent cas­es of repa­tri­a­tion our net­work of nuns has assist­ed in Italy. Just a few weeks ago, she coura­geous­ly ran away from her traf­fick­ers who cheat­ed her and forced her to pros­ti­tute her­self on the street. She turned to the Niger­ian Embassy, who con­tact­ed our net­work of nuns who hid her in one of our shel­ters while wait­ing for legal doc­u­ments to be processed by the high­ly sup­port­ive and col­lab­o­ra­tive Niger­ian Embassy staff in Rome. Costs relat­ed to her return to Nige­ria (e.g. air­fare, rein­te­gra­tion project) were cov­ered by the asso­ci­a­tion “Slaves No More”. I was so struck by the courage of this young woman, who before leav­ing wrote a note to the sis­ters thank­ing them for “not let­ting [her] die on the streets”. But how many women are still dying on the streets?

Glo­ria, 22, was forced to work on the streets in Italy to pay a large debt bond (inflat­ed costs charged of vic­tims by traf­fick­ers for their forced trav­el, rent, food, clothes…). Before leav­ing Nige­ria, she was forced before the local witch doc­tor who per­formed “voodoo rit­u­als” (also known as juju or black mag­ic) which con­tin­ued to have a very pow­er­ful hold on her psy­che. A beau­ti­ful young woman, she became the favourite of a 38-year-old divorced man. He fell in love with her and want­ed to bring her to his home, but she refused. As revenge, he threw Glo­ria from a bridge and her life­less young body was found the next day by a fish­er­man pass­ing by. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, today many young women are still mur­dered on the streets, often as a warn­ing to oth­er vic­tims to sub­mit to their traf­fick­ers and deliv­er on ‘promis­es’ they were forced to make through voodoo rit­u­als. In most cas­es, the mur­der­ers are nev­er found and pun­ished for their unspeak­able crimes. How many more deaths on the streets do we need to see before jus­tice is deliv­ered for the victims?

Nan­cy, 14, was sold to human traf­fick­ers in Nige­ria by an uncle. She was brought to Italy and forced onto the streets, and soon after res­cued by police and sent to a shel­ter for chil­dren. In the process, she lost all con­tact with her fam­i­ly, and it was only after six years, thanks to the work of a net­work of reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions in Nige­ria, that she was reunit­ed with her moth­er – sent home in time to cel­e­brate Christ­mas after a sev­en-year absence.

Sonia, bare­ly 18, was arrest­ed dur­ing a police check on the out­skirts of Rome. She had no legal doc­u­ments (they were tak­en by her traf­fick­ers), so she was tak­en to the Cen­tre for Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Expul­sion in Rome. She shared with us that she was only 16 when she was brought to Italy by her three step­sis­ters who forced her to pros­ti­tute her­self. In 15 months she had earned them 55,000 EUR. Due to her young age, she was much sought after by clients. Our net­work of reli­gious sis­ters facil­i­tat­ed her release from the Cen­tre, reset­tled her in a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty shel­ter and reg­is­tered her in a pro­gram of social rein­te­gra­tion for traf­ficked women. It is gut-wrench­ing and infu­ri­at­ing to realise that many times traf­fick­ers are mem­bers of a victim’s fam­i­ly, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for a young and vul­ner­a­ble girl to escape the net­work enslav­ing her or muster the courage and clar­i­ty to tes­ti­fy against her own fam­i­ly in ways that will result in legal action.

3.    Traf­fick­ing: A Glob­al Phenomenon

A few facts on the glob­al phe­nom­e­non of traf­fick­ing in human beings, main­ly for sex­u­al exploita­tion, will help us to bet­ter under­stand the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem and the great need for an appro­pri­ate pas­toral min­istry of lib­er­a­tion for thou­sands of vic­tims through projects of pre­ven­tion, reha­bil­i­ta­tion and rein­te­gra­tion into society.

The trade in human beings, par­tic­u­lar­ly of women and minors, has reached the bor­ders of almost every coun­try, draw­ing each into the evil chain of traf­fick­ing which runs through coun­tries of ori­gin, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion of vic­tims. Giv­en its illic­it nature, it is near­ly impos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy the glob­al num­ber of vic­tims; how­ev­er, mul­ti­ple sta­tis­tics put it as high as 27–30 mil­lion. Accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations, traf­fick­ing in per­sons gen­er­ates an annu­al income of rough­ly $32 bil­lion – behind only the trade of arms and drugs. Despite new efforts to pro­tect and rein­te­grate vic­tims, the dan­ger of women’s exploita­tion is ever present, with the risk of vic­tims falling into slav­ery and sub­mis­sion due to their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and lack of alter­na­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties. Crim­i­nal mafias con­stant­ly change their strate­gies to ensure and pro­tect the enor­mous finan­cial earn­ings they reap; there­fore, we too – women reli­gious and all peo­ple of faith and good will com­mit­ted to end­ing slav­ery in our time – must be equal­ly orga­nized to coun­ter­act this crim­i­nal­i­ty and assist its needy victims.

Traf­fick­ing of human beings for sex­u­al exploita­tion has devel­oped into a glob­al mar­ket, involv­ing coun­tries of ori­gin, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion.

Ø  Coun­tries of Ori­gin rep­re­sent the “push” or “sup­ply” side of the equa­tion. That is to say, they pro­vide the breed­ing ground of pover­ty which traf­fick­ers comb to find poten­tial vic­tims. The women are easy tar­gets, vul­ner­a­ble from utter pover­ty, lack of edu­ca­tion and job oppor­tu­ni­ties, gen­der inequal­i­ty, dis­crim­i­na­tion and war.

Ø  Coun­tries of Tran­sit offer sev­er­al routes through which traf­ficked per­sons are tak­en to reach their final des­ti­na­tion. Traf­fick­ers have per­fect­ed ways to import and export their vic­tims with­out the risk of being stopped and sent back to the coun­try of origin.

Ø  Coun­tries of Des­ti­na­tion rep­re­sent the “pull” or “demand” fac­tor, and even though the main cul­prit here is the “client”, oth­er fac­tors must also be con­sid­ered in deci­pher­ing the glob­al net of the sex indus­try – such as gen­der, desire for prof­it and pow­er by the mafia, and oth­er forms of inter­na­tion­al and trans-nation­al orga­nized crime. Nev­er­the­less, the main pro­tag­o­nist of the per­pet­u­a­tion of traf­fick­ing for sex­u­al exploita­tion remains the “client”, or “con­sumer”, who plays a key role in this busi­ness. He reg­u­lates the demand fac­tor, and the sup­ply cor­re­sponds to his demand.

4.    Root Caus­es of Human Trafficking

Pros­ti­tu­tion is not a new phe­nom­e­non, it has long been referred to the as “the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion”. How­ev­er, what is new is the glob­al­iza­tion of the trade through net­work­ing forced sex work­ers (includ­ing minors) for the prof­it of oth­ers. Those caught in the traf­fick­ing net­work have become the 21st cen­tu­ry slaves. Tricked, enslaved and forced onto the street or in night clubs to “pros­ti­tute” them­selves; they are liv­ing exam­ples of the unjust dis­crim­i­na­tion and abuse of women imposed by our con­sumer soci­ety. Why does it happen?

Ø  The sta­tus of women around the world has long been under attack. Today, the face of pover­ty, mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion and exploita­tion is female. Women rep­re­sent 80% of those liv­ing in absolute pover­ty, and almost two-thirds of the 850 mil­lion illit­er­ate adults in the world. More than half of those, main­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries, between the ages of 15 and 24, are infect­ed with HIV/AIDS.

Ø  The objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women is more dan­ger­ous, preva­lent and rel­e­vant than ever. Mod­ern media, in all its forms, con­tin­ues to por­tray women as objects, and objects of plea­sure and a source of gain for oth­ers. Media has cre­at­ed a ‘nor­mal­iza­tion’ about the abuse of women, their treat­ment as a com­mod­i­ty – and this atti­tude has helped fuel the mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar busi­ness of glob­al human trafficking.

Ø  The extreme pover­ty of many women and their desire for eman­ci­pa­tion from cul­tures and sit­u­a­tions of sub­mis­sion and imposed infe­ri­or­i­ty. Too often, they risk every­thing – their life, dig­ni­ty and iden­ti­ty – to enter a Euro­pean coun­try and lifestyle. West­ern world mass media cre­ates and pro­mul­gates this “promised land” – and this is the dream that so many young women buy into, nev­er to see it.

Ø  Min­i­mum or total absence of edu­ca­tion and/or work oppor­tu­ni­ties often lead women down the road to sex­u­al exploita­tion, espe­cial­ly African women, giv­en access to resources is so lim­it­ed. The attrac­tion to/dream of “life in the west” is fur­ther fanned when African women (mamans, traf­fick­ers) return home with rich­es – made from exploit­ing oth­er African women – and proud­ly dis­play them.

Ø  Heavy fam­i­ly eco­nom­ic, phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al bur­dens – espe­cial­ly for many young African and East­ern Euro­pean women, who so often leave fam­i­ly mem­bers and chil­dren home whom they expect to sup­port with earn­ings from Italy, which makes them easy prey for traf­fick­ers and exploiters. Most vic­tims are near­ly illit­er­ate, there­fore fur­ther vul­ner­a­ble and eas­i­ly lured. The major­i­ty of such young women, work­ing in dehu­man­ised con­di­tions on the streets of our cities and in the coun­try­side, come from Nige­ria and from East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries; few oth­ers from Latin Amer­i­ca and they are most­ly recruit­ed as dancers in nightclubs.

5.    The Glob­al Slave Trade: How & Why It’s Thriving

The slav­ery chain is long: To be a slave is to be chained. That chain robs its vic­tims of free­dom and sub­jects them to life under the will of anoth­er. Mod­ern-day slav­ery is a chain with many inter­con­nect­ed links: vic­tims with their pover­ty; exploiters with their huge prof­its; con­sumers with their sense of enti­tle­ment to easy plea­sure and an escape from frus­tra­tion, deep per­son­al engage­ment and respon­si­bil­i­ty; soci­ety with its emp­ty val­ues and per­mis­sive­ness; gov­ern­ments with their cor­rupt sys­tems and com­plic­i­ty; the Church and every Chris­t­ian, with our silence and indifference.

Pope Fran­cis has often spo­ken of “the glob­al­iza­tion of indif­fer­ence”, which can be appro­pri­ate­ly applied to this issue. Each of us must reflect and ask our­selves where we have not stood strong­ly against indif­fer­ence – but also when we have tol­er­at­ed igno­rance, cor­rup­tion, and exploita­tion that ulti­mate­ly destroys the life, dreams and future of mil­lions of women, chil­dren and men and boys des­per­ate­ly attempt­ing to escape from mate­r­i­al, moral or emo­tion­al poverty.

Vul­ner­a­ble vic­tims buy into false promis­es: A vision of the “promised land” – where jobs are avail­able, mon­ey can be made, oppor­tu­ni­ties to help their fam­i­lies pre­sent­ed – com­pels vic­tims to buy into traf­fick­ers’ schemes. They can trav­el for weeks or months over land, by air or sea. In the case of most Nige­ri­ans nowa­days, they are forced to cross the Sahara Desert, wan­der­ing for months in dehu­man­ized con­di­tions before arriv­ing either in Libya or Moroc­co (or a few oth­er coun­tries where traf­fick­ers’ net­works facil­i­tate ille­gal access to light boats) to cross the Mediter­ranean Sea. Thou­sands of vic­tims (will­ing and forced) risk their lives to enter Italy (or oth­er parts of Europe) with no legal doc­u­ment. Sad­ly, but not sur­pris­ing­ly, each year hun­dreds of them do not sur­vive either the desert or sea crossing.

Traf­fick­ing net­works are high­ly orga­nized: Unscrupu­lous traf­fick­ers, men and women, lure vic­tims in coun­tries where pover­ty is extreme, fam­i­lies large, and there is lit­tle access to edu­ca­tion and oppor­tu­ni­ties for a bet­ter life. Exploit­ing this socio-eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion, and know­ing they face huge prof­its and rel­a­tive­ly low risk, today’s slave traders mis­lead women and their fam­i­lies with promis­es of a remu­ner­a­tive and dig­ni­fied work abroad. Women and chil­dren are brought to “devel­oped” coun­tries by ille­gal means, aid­ed by the com­plic­i­ty of cor­rupt employ­ees and offi­cers in embassies, air­ports, cus­toms and immi­gra­tion offices, trav­el agents, land­lords of apart­ments, hotel own­ers and taxi dri­vers. Yes, it takes a vil­lage to traf­fic a vic­tim. On reach­ing their des­ti­na­tion (most often one cho­sen for the vic­tim; not where she want­ed to go), traf­fick­ers con­fis­cate all of the victim’s legal trav­el doc­u­ments – and in doing so, steal her name, iden­ti­ty and free­dom. Vic­tims grad­u­al­ly lose a sense of who they are.

Savvy recruit­ment strate­gies: Traf­fick­ers are con­stant­ly evolv­ing their meth­ods of recruit­ment and trans­fer of vic­tims. They are poised to take advan­tage of young peo­ple arriv­ing on our coasts in Italy, attempt­ing to escape pover­ty, war and insta­bil­i­ty in their coun­tries of ori­gin. Imme­di­ate­ly, they are approached by ill-intend­ed traf­fick­ers who advise them to request legal doc­u­men­ta­tion as an asy­lum seek­er which pro­vides legal pro­tec­tion and the sta­tus of refugee. This doc­u­men­ta­tion allows its hold­er to remain in Italy under a spe­cial per­mit for sev­er­al months (or even years) before a case will be heard by a spe­cial com­mis­sion which will deter­mine whether the hold­er is approved or denied the oppor­tu­ni­ty to remain in Italy. Dur­ing this lengthy peri­od, young women are intro­duced and tricked by traf­fick­ers and madams into the sex indus­try, main­ly on the streets, with­out the risk for traf­fick­ers that the vic­tim will be deport­ed back to their home country.

Lack of aware­ness and pre­ven­tion cam­paigns: There is a vital need to work on pre­ven­tion efforts in coun­tries of ori­gin by inform­ing peo­ple in schools, parish­es, youth groups and the media about what is real­ly hap­pen­ing to young peo­ple search­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for a bet­ter future. There is equal­ly a great need in coun­tries of des­ti­na­tion to make peo­ple aware that this kind of slav­ery is flour­ish­ing because there is an inde­fati­ga­ble demand for such a service.

6. Traf­ficked Vic­tims: Chal­lenges of Resettling

Sex­u­al abuse degrades a per­son on mul­ti­ple lev­els – phys­i­cal, men­tal, emo­tion­al, spir­i­tu­al. The act can emp­ty its vic­tim of her deep­est val­ues, destroy her self-esteem, con­fuse her con­cepts of love, life, wom­an­hood and fem­i­nin­i­ty, and under­mine her dream – and real pos­si­bil­i­ties – of a bright future. After some time on the street, for sur­vival, a vic­tim usu­al­ly assumes a pos­ture of self-defence, expressed by vul­gar­i­ty, vio­lence and aggres­sion. She lives a con­tra­dic­to­ry real­i­ty: in one moment she is court­ed by the “client”, and in the next she can be crit­i­cized, con­demned and reject­ed by the very con­sumer soci­ety that uses and abus­es her. She lives in iso­la­tion and car­ries with­in her­self a strong sense of guilt and shame. Restor­ing her bal­ance and har­mo­ny is not an easy or a quick task; it is com­plex, com­pli­cat­ed and long-term.

In walk­ing with a vic­tim through the process of res­cue to rein­te­gra­tion, women reli­gious in Italy (and through­out our net­works) are forced to nego­ti­ate the fol­low­ing crit­i­cal aspects of this phenomenon:

·      Vic­tims have no legal doc­u­ments. These are con­fis­cat­ed by their traf­fick­ers, there­fore they are in Italy illegally;

·      Being ille­gal, vic­tims have no right to health care or insur­ance, where­as many suf­fer from STDs, HIV/AIDS or phys­i­cal ail­ments due to mal­treat­ment and/or beatings;

·      Cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers at times cre­ate ten­sion and prob­lems, espe­cial­ly in shel­ters where we have vic­tims of dif­fer­ent nation­al­i­ties, lan­guages and backgrounds;

·      Traf­fick­ers rarely share prof­its with vic­tims; there­fore, vic­tims are with­out mon­ey to cov­er hous­ing, food or any basic needs.

·       The major­i­ty of vic­tims in Italy, main­ly Nige­ri­ans, arrive with lit­tle edu­ca­tion, and as a result have few job oppor­tu­ni­ties and face dis­crim­i­na­tion due to their African background;

·      Traf­fick­ing vic­tims car­ry deep psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds – depres­sion, sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies, loss of psy­cho-phys­i­cal iden­ti­ty, self-objec­ti­fi­ca­tion, trust issues, and sense of guilt;

·      Vic­tims suf­fer emo­tion­al wounds – shame, guilt, fear, lack of self-esteem, at times they respond with a defensive/aggressive manner;

·      Labelled as “pros­ti­tutes”, traf­fick­ing vic­tims car­ry a heavy stig­ma – treat­ed as social out­casts and marginalised;

·      Many vic­tims become preg­nant while work­ing the street (or by client “boyfriends”) and then must pro­vide for their chil­dren, which can fur­ther com­pli­cate their issues of recov­ery and reintegration;

·      Vic­tims may need/desire to return to their coun­try of ori­gin for fam­i­ly rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, com­pli­cat­ed by the shame they face return­ing home with no mon­ey to sup­port their fam­i­lies’ basic needs (most often a key rea­son why they trav­elled abroad) and by what has hap­pened to them;

·      Vic­tims may need/desire to remain in Italy because they have no oppor­tu­ni­ties, no fam­i­ly (or fam­i­ly that might re-traf­fic them), and no sup­port in their coun­try of origin;

·      Many vic­tims need prop­er pro­tec­tion from traf­fick­ers and madams; there­fore our shel­ters need to be pro­tect­ed, kept secret, and acces­si­ble to lim­it­ed vis­i­tors only;

·      Lim­it­ed funds for USMI Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office and net­work of 100 nun-run con­vents-turned-shel­ters (see addi­tion­al points below).

7. The Niger­ian Context

Each year the U.S. State Department’s Office to Mon­i­tor and Com­bat Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons issues the Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (TIP) Report that ranks gov­ern­ments based on their per­ceived efforts to acknowl­edge and com­bat human traf­fick­ing. It serves as the world’s most com­pre­hen­sive resource of gov­ern­men­tal anti-human traf­fick­ing efforts and its ulti­mate goals are free­ing vic­tims, pre­vent­ing traf­fick­ing and bring­ing traf­fick­ers to justice.

Fol­low­ing is an excerpt from the 2014 TIP Report’s find­ings on Nige­ria: “[It] is a source, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion coun­try for women and chil­dren sub­ject­ed to forced labor and sex traf­fick­ing. … Vic­tims are recruit­ed from rur­al, and to a less­er extent, urban areas … women and girls for domes­tic servi­tude and sex traf­fick­ing; boys for forced labor, domes­tic servi­tude, stone quar­ry­ing, agri­cul­ture. Niger­ian traf­fick­ers rely on threats of voodoo curs­es to con­trol Niger­ian vic­tims and force them into sit­u­a­tions of pros­ti­tu­tion or labor. Niger­ian women and chil­dren are tak­en from Nige­ria to oth­er West and Cen­tral African coun­tries as well as South Africa. Niger­ian women and girls – pri­mar­i­ly from Benin City in Edo State – are sub­ject­ed to forced pros­ti­tu­tion in Italy, while Niger­ian women and girls from oth­er states are sub­ject­ed to forced pros­ti­tu­tion in oth­er West­ern and East­ern Euro­pean countries.

Niger­ian gangs sub­ject large num­bers of Niger­ian women into forced pros­ti­tu­tion in the Czech Repub­lic and Italy … and the Euro­pean Police Orga­ni­za­tion (EUROPOL) has iden­ti­fied Niger­ian orga­nized crime relat­ed to traf­fick­ing in per­sons as one of the largest law enforce­ment chal­lenges to Euro­pean governments.

The Gov­ern­ment of Nige­ria does not ful­ly com­ply with the min­i­mum stan­dards for the elim­i­na­tion of traf­fick­ing; how­ev­er, it is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant efforts to do so … increas­ing the num­ber of traf­fick­ing inves­ti­ga­tions and con­vic­tions and by pro­vid­ing exten­sive spe­cial­ized anti-traf­fick­ing train­ing to offi­cial from var­i­ous gov­ern­ment min­istries and agen­cies. The Nation­al Agency for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons and Oth­er Relat­ed Mat­ters (NAPTIP) increased pro­tec­tion efforts … Despite the grow­ing num­ber of Niger­ian traf­fick­ing vic­tims iden­ti­fied abroad, the gov­ern­ment has yet to imple­ment for­mal pro­ce­dures for the return and rein­te­gra­tion of Niger­ian victims”.

But there is hope. Each year the U.S. Depart­ment of State hon­ors indi­vid­u­als around the world for their excep­tion­al and tire­less efforts to erad­i­cate human traf­fick­ing – even in the face of resis­tance, oppo­si­tion and threats to their lives – and this year, a Niger­ian – Mrs. Jedy-Agba – is among the 10 TIP Heroes fea­tured in the 2014 TIP Report.

8. The Ital­ian Context

At the begin­ning of the 1980s, fol­low­ing ongo­ing eco­nom­ic dif­fi­cul­ties in devel­op­ing coun­tries, thou­sands of women came to Europe in search of work and a bet­ter qual­i­ty of life. Ille­gal, poor and vul­ner­a­ble, many became the prey of inter­na­tion­al and trans-nation­al crim­i­nal organ­i­sa­tions linked to the sex indus­try. Italy was not exempt from this phe­nom­e­non; and giv­en its geog­ra­phy, it lends itself to easy entry by slave traders look­ing to “sell women” to sat­is­fy the demand of mil­lions of consumers.

Very soon in this phe­nom­e­non, young women tried to run away from their traf­fick­ers and start­ed ask­ing for pro­tec­tion and assis­tance. Reli­gious Con­gre­ga­tions, togeth­er with oth­er vol­un­teer groups, were among the first to read this new “sign of the times”, and offered vic­tims alter­na­tive solu­tions to a life on the streets. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, nuns opened the doors of their con­vents to hide vic­tims run­ning away from their exploiters.

At the out­set, they faced many dif­fi­cul­ties in assist­ing the vic­tims – lan­guage bar­ri­ers, cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, moral con­flicts, pub­lic opin­ion and, main­ly, address­ing the ille­gal sta­tus of the vic­tims. Very soon, by lis­ten­ing to their dra­mat­ic sto­ries, the nuns came to under­stand that their “work” as pros­ti­tutes was not a choice they had made, but that they were deal­ing with a new form of slav­ery.

This sit­u­a­tion chal­lenged our val­ues, atti­tudes, tra­di­tions and our secu­ri­ty, while at the same time demand­ing imme­di­ate answers. Some female con­gre­ga­tions respond­ed pos­i­tive­ly with a prophet­ic intu­ition by pro­vid­ing shel­ters, lan­guage cours­es, train­ing skills and job oppor­tu­ni­ties for the vic­tims they encoun­tered. In this new envi­ron­ment, vic­tims were also able to heal their deep psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al wounds caused by this humil­i­at­ing expe­ri­ence. They were helped to regain their sense of self-worth, trust and hope. A major obsta­cle how­ev­er remained: hav­ing no per­son­al doc­u­ments, these vic­tims could not claim any legal rights in Italy. In recent years, a pow­er­ful part­ner­ship has been forged with the Niger­ian Embassy in Rome and more than 6,000 pass­ports have been issued to Niger­ian traf­fick­ing vic­tims – open­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty for legal assis­tance in Italy and/or safe trav­el back to Nigeria.

The pro­tec­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing has been imple­ment­ed legal­ly in Italy since July 25, 1998, through the appli­ca­tion of a spe­cial res­i­dence per­mit grant­ed for social pro­tec­tion and rein­te­gra­tion under Leg­isla­tive Immi­gra­tion Decree No. 286. The main motive behind this Ital­ian law was the will and need to stop traf­fick­ing in human beings by ensur­ing traf­fick­ers were brought to jus­tice, as well as sup­port­ing and assist­ing vic­tims in break­ing their chains of exploita­tion and enslave­ment (dee Sec­tion 10 for more on Leg­isla­tive Immi­gra­tion Decree No. 286).

9. The Niger­ian-Ital­ian Connection

In 1993 I began work­ing with the phe­nom­e­non of women import­ed from devel­op­ing coun­tries to sat­is­fy the bur­geon­ing demand for com­mer­cial sex present in indus­tri­alised Ital­ian cities. In the north­ern city of Turin (Tori­no) alone, 3,000 women were liv­ing and trav­el­ling main­ly at night through­out five dif­fer­ent regions: Pied­mont, Lom­bardy, Lig­uria, Emil­ia-Romagna and Valle d’Aosta. At this time, Turin came to be known as the Cap­i­tal of Nige­ria in Italy.

Anoth­er area where hun­dreds of Nige­ri­ans nowa­days live and work is the Domi­tiana High­way that leads from Naples up the coast of Italy. Built in 95 AD, in recent years the high­way has been used to pros­ti­tute hun­dreds of Niger­ian girls at a time. Some of them are young, some with chil­dren, most have hus­bands and fam­i­lies they left behind in Nige­ria, all of them are vul­ner­a­ble vic­tims, trapped in the bru­tal sup­ply and demand of the com­mer­cial sex industry.

Today in Italy alone, between 70,000 and 100,000 young women – main­ly from Nige­ria, East­ern Europe and Latin Amer­i­ca – are dis­played for sale on our streets. Many are minors, as young as 14 years old. As they are brought to Italy ille­gal­ly, it is impos­si­ble to know exact­ly how many they are, who they are and where they are or where they come from. Nev­er­the­less, we know that Niger­ian women still make up the major­i­ty of traf­fick­ing vic­tims in Italy: close to 50%.

At the begin­ning of the Niger­ian traf­fick­ing trade, vic­tims used to cross sev­er­al coun­tries before reach­ing their final des­ti­na­tion in Europe/Italy. They might have gone through Greece, Rus­sia, Bul­gar­ia, Hol­land, Ger­many, Spain and France, trav­el­ling for weeks or months over land, by air, or sea. In recent years, traf­fick­ing routes and meth­ods have changed, and we see that traf­fick­ers run vic­tims across the Sahara Desert to avoid hav­ing to apply for legal doc­u­ments for them.

Once in Italy, vic­tims’ pass­ports or doc­u­ments are con­fis­cat­ed, nev­er to be returned, leav­ing them as per­sons with no iden­ti­ty, no name, no nation­al­i­ty and no legal sta­tus. They grad­u­al­ly lose the sense of who they are. This applies espe­cial­ly to the Niger­ian women and girls who are also sub­ject­ed by crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions to voodoo rit­u­als (also referred to as juju or black mag­ic). Among African women, cas­es of men­tal ill­ness or break­down are fre­quent since voodoo has a very pow­er­ful hold on their psy­che and they fear reprisal against their fam­i­lies back home.

Niger­ian vic­tims are entrust­ed to a maman, a Niger­ian women who over­sees the “busi­ness” of each vic­tim, and who very often is a for­mer vic­tim of sex­u­al slav­ery her­self. A maman is respon­si­ble for new recruits, teach­ing them how to work the streets, par­celling out the stretch of street where they are to work, col­lect­ing (or con­fis­cat­ing) their earn­ings, pun­ish­ing them in cas­es of resis­tance, and above all, con­trol­ling them psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly with the ill effects of the voodoo rites.

On the com­pet­i­tive sex mar­ket, African women are con­sid­ered “sec­ond class” and there­fore get a low­er price for their ser­vices. For a rou­tine trans­ac­tion in a car, they agree to 10–15 EUR where­as East­ern Euro­pean traf­fick­ing vic­tims can ask 25 EUR. Under that sce­nario, for a Niger­ian traf­fick­ing vic­tim to earn enough mon­ey to pay off a debt bond (con­tract­ed with the traf­fick­ers who recruit­ed them and brought them to Italy), which aver­ages 60,000–80,000 EUR, she must engage in a min­i­mum of 4,000 sex­u­al trans­ac­tions (usu­al­ly inter­course). In addi­tion to the ini­tial debt bond, traf­fick­ers also require her to cov­er month­ly expens­es which include and can aver­age 100 EUR for food, 250 EUR for lodg­ing, 250 EUR for the “joint” (work site), in addi­tion to cloth­ing, trans­port and ran­dom per­son­al needs. To repay their debt, they have to “work” every day or every night (often both), sev­en days a week for not less than two or three years.

Every traf­fick­ing vic­tim is vul­ner­a­ble to the dan­gers of the street: mal­treat­ment, abuse, road acci­dents and even death; and each year sev­er­al girls are killed on the streets of Italy, either by jeal­ous or deranged clients, street vio­lence, or at the hands of their traf­fick­ers in front of oth­er vic­tims as a delib­er­ate­ly cru­el and effec­tive tac­tic for pre­vent­ing oth­ers from run­ning away. They run the high risk of con­tract­ing HIV/AIDS, as Ital­ian clients tend not to use con­doms. Ten to 15% of women on the street in Italy are reg­is­tered HIV+. Many women become preg­nant, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the “break­ing-in peri­od” (repeat­ed gang rape) per­formed dur­ing their peri­od of forced tran­sit, even result­ing in some chil­dren being born in the desert – though often traf­fick­ers deal with unwant­ed preg­nan­cy by forced abor­tion. For African women, who hold mater­ni­ty as the high­est val­ue, abor­tion rep­re­sents not only the killing of a new life, but also of a culture.

            10. From Vic­tims to Cit­i­zens: Women Reli­gious Help­ing Women

The Ital­ian Union of Major Supe­ri­ors (USMI), a con­fer­ence of women reli­gious, coor­di­nates the crit­i­cal min­istry of all women reli­gious. In 2000, in response to a “sign of the times”, USMI estab­lished a Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office respon­si­ble for grow­ing, train­ing and sup­port­ing the net­work of reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions work­ing on the issue. The fol­low­ing are some ways in which women reli­gious are present and bear prophet­ic wit­ness in deal­ing with restor­ing human rights and dig­ni­ty to traf­fick­ing vic­tims include:

Ø  Con­vents-Turned-Shel­ter­s/Safe Hous­es: Over the last 15 years, women reli­gious in the counter-traf­fick­ing net­work I man­age respond­ed to the phe­nom­e­non by open­ing the “holy doors” of their con­vents to con­vert them into safe hous­es for more than 6,000 girls and young women res­cued from the grips of human traf­fick­ing. Today, 250 sis­ters – belong­ing to 80 con­gre­ga­tions – work in more than 100 safe hous­es (projects) through­out Italy, often in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Car­i­tas, oth­er pub­lic or pri­vate bod­ies, vol­un­teers and asso­ci­a­tions, while main­tain­ing their iden­ti­ty moti­vat­ed by the Gospel imper­a­tive. These small fam­i­ly hous­es offer hos­pi­tal­i­ty to 6–8 vic­tims at a time, for a peri­od of 6–12 months (or longer for pro­grams of social, legal, finan­cial and spir­i­tu­al re-inte­gra­tion). The vic­tims come from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, some preg­nant, some already moth­ers with chil­dren left behind in their coun­tries of ori­gin who anx­ious­ly await their return (which may or may not hap­pen). These traf­fick­ing vic­tims have been loved, cared for, invest­ed in and rein­te­grat­ed into main­stream soci­ety so that they can either make a new life in Italy or return to their home coun­tries under a spe­cial­ly financed project launched in 2013 for per­son­al, social and work­ing reha­bil­i­ta­tion. Our shel­ters see young and old nuns liv­ing togeth­er with res­cued vic­tims shar­ing meals, prayer, dai­ly run­ning of the house, lan­guage learn­ing, and oth­er use­ful skills and edu­ca­tion – a rad­i­cal diver­gence from life on the streets that pro­vides deep heal­ing. The fam­i­ly atmos­phere – infused with Christ’s exam­ple of uncon­di­tion­al love – offers vic­tims the safe space nec­es­sary to face their trau­ma, heal their wounds, and be under­stood in their moments of rebel­lion and frus­tra­tion. I vis­it such shel­ters to meet and sup­port the sis­ters in their del­i­cate dai­ly task of guid­ing the rebuild­ing of vic­tims’ lives, assist in bridg­ing cul­tur­al and lan­guage bar­ri­ers, assist in obtain­ing legal doc­u­ments for vic­tims and coun­sel vic­tims on the great impor­tance of the time spent in a reli­gious shel­ter to pre­pare them for a bet­ter future. In these shel­ters, I am referred to as “the old mama”, and con­sis­tent­ly am called to assist vic­tims in deal­ing with their inter­nal and exter­nal ten­sions and difficulties;

Ø  Restor­ing legal sta­tus through assist­ing vic­tims in the acqui­si­tion of legal doc­u­ments. Since 2000, when the new USMI Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office was opened, more than 4,000 pass­ports have been issued by the Niger­ian Embassy in Rome to vic­tims of exploita­tion in com­pli­ance with the issuance of res­i­dence per­mits under Ital­ian human traf­fick­ing leg­is­la­tion. They were issued upon the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of vic­tims by the approved asso­ci­a­tions in our net­work, since none of the vic­tims could pro­duce a birth cer­tifi­cate or oth­er legal doc­u­ment. Today process has become more com­pli­cat­ed due to traf­fick­ers’ meth­ods of using vic­tims’ fin­ger­prints with false names, dates and doc­u­ments. All costs of restor­ing legal doc­u­men­ta­tion for vic­tims is cov­ered by the shelters;

Ø  Col­lab­o­ra­tion with rel­e­vant embassies to obtain nec­es­sary iden­ti­fi­ca­tion documents;

Ø  Out­reach units as a first con­tact with the vic­tims on the streets;

Ø  Drop-in Cen­tres to iden­ti­fy the prob­lems of women in search of assistance;

Ø  Pro­grammes of social reintegration;

Ø  Professional/vocational prepa­ra­tion through lan­guage, skills and job training;

Ø  Psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al sup­port to assist sur­vivors in redis­cov­er­ing their cul­tur­al roots and faith, to regain their self-respect and heal the deep wounds of their experience;

Ø  Week­ly Vis­its to the Cen­tre for Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Expul­sion: Start­ing in 2003, 60 nuns from 27 con­gre­ga­tions and 28 coun­tries (main­ly from those coun­tries with the most traf­fick­ing vic­tims in Italy), entered behind the prison walls of the Cen­tre for Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Expul­sion (Ponte Gale­ria) on the out­skirts of Rome, often “home” to more than 150 traf­fick­ing vic­tims at a time. The sis­ters offer prayer, lis­ten­ing, com­fort and coun­sel, most often in the traf­fick­ing victim’s moth­er tongue. This is a place of great suf­fer­ing, but that is alle­vi­at­ed to some extent by shar­ing our con­cern and com­pas­sion with these women who often wait months on end before being force­ful­ly deport­ed – most because they were found to be in Italy with no legal doc­u­ments (traf­fick­ers con­fis­cate all legal doc­u­ments in order to con­trol vic­tims’ movement);

Ø  Work­ing as a glob­al net­work is the great­est strength and key to suc­cess in this min­istry. Traf­fick­ers are pro­fes­sion­al net­work­ers – so women reli­gious work­ing on this issue must be, too, in coun­tries of ori­gin, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion. Togeth­er we work toward more informed con­sul­ta­tion and greater coop­er­a­tion with gov­ern­ment, law enforce­ment, NGOs, Car­i­tas, reli­gious and faith-based organ­i­sa­tions in order to be more effec­tive in erad­i­cat­ing this 21st cen­tu­ry slav­ery, with the goal to elim­i­nate cor­rup­tion, illic­it prof­its and the great demand from mil­lions of “con­sumers” of paid sex. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, even today, the issue of ‘demand’ from con­sumers is very sel­dom addressed or high­light­ed in exist­ing networks.

            11. The Ital­ian Response: Gov­ern­ment and Legislation

To under­stand the aim and impor­tance of the rein­te­gra­tion of vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing by facil­i­tat­ing their reset­tle­ment either in host coun­tries or in coun­tries of ori­gin it is impor­tant to out­line some key steps already achieved in the Ital­ian context.

The pro­tec­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing has been imple­ment­ed legal­ly in Italy since July 25, 1998, through the appli­ca­tion of a spe­cial res­i­dence per­mit grant­ed for social pro­tec­tion and rein­te­gra­tion under Leg­isla­tive Immi­gra­tion Decree No. 286. With this leg­is­la­tion, Italy is a pio­neer among Euro­pean coun­tries, pro­vid­ing a sys­temic frame­work for issu­ing a res­i­dence per­mitin recog­ni­tion and sup­port of vic­tims of exploita­tion, as well as crack­ing down on traf­fick­ing and traf­fick­ers. A per­son can receive assis­tance and pro­tec­tion with this res­i­dent per­mit when s/he is:

  • A vic­tim of vio­lence or exploita­tion and forced into prostitution;
  • Ready to leave pros­ti­tu­tion and requests assis­tance, either from police or from some NGO;
  • Will­ing to go through a social reha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme, in a pro­tect­ed house or shelter;
  • Will­ing to tes­ti­fy against the traffickers;
  • In dan­ger of fur­ther vio­lence, due to the tes­ti­mo­ny giv­en about her/his traffickers.


Leg­isla­tive Immi­gra­tion Decree No. 286 pro­vides vic­tims with:

  • A res­i­dent per­mit for six months, that can be renewed for anoth­er six months while the vic­tim applies for a legal passport;
  • Pos­si­bil­i­ty to renew the res­i­dent per­mit or extend it for a peri­od equiv­a­lent to the term of a work con­tract, if the per­son con­cerned is already employed, or if s/he is attend­ing a course;
  • Eli­gi­bil­i­ty for a study pro­gram when prop­er insti­tu­tion­al require­ments are met.

For the imple­men­ta­tion of this leg­is­la­tion the gov­ern­ment has allo­cat­ed a bud­get for approved NGOs hold­ing spe­cial pro­grammes for counter-traf­fick­ing activ­i­ties and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of vic­tims. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, today finan­cial help is no longer avail­able as it was and as it should be, there­fore most vic­tim shel­ters in Italy are now run by women’s con­gre­ga­tions or char­i­ta­ble organ­i­sa­tions with no gov­ern­men­tal finan­cial support.

In Feb­ru­ary 2012 the Euro­pean Union approved a new leg­is­la­tion on counter-traf­fick­ing, sim­i­lar to Italy’s Immi­gra­tion Decree No. 286, giv­ing spe­cial atten­tion to pro­tec­tion and rein­te­gra­tion of vic­tims, and bind­ing all Euro­pean Mem­ber States to imple­ment the new leg­is­la­tion with­in the peri­od of 2013–2015.

            12. The Niger­ian Response: Women Reli­gious Repa­tri­a­tion & Reintegration

In the last 15 years, since we start­ed coor­di­nat­ing with Niger­ian com­mu­ni­ties on counter-traf­fick­ing ini­tia­tives, two shel­ters have been opened; one in Benin City in 2007, and one in Lagos in 2009. Both have offered accom­mo­da­tion to more than 100 vic­tims who returned home on a vol­un­tary basis, while sev­er­al thou­sand have been repa­tri­at­ed by the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment due to lack of documents.

The shel­ter in Benin City is an 18-bed resource cen­tre, the tan­gi­ble result of coop­er­a­tion between Italy and Nige­ria. This is the first such shel­ter to be built in Nige­ria and run by women reli­gious. It was ful­ly fund­ed by the Ital­ian Bish­ops’ Con­fer­ence (CEI) and is facil­i­tat­ed by the Niger­ian Con­fer­ence of Women Religious.

The shel­ter in Lagos was opened in May 2009, and serves as a new office and shel­ter. This is a strate­gic cen­tre deal­ing main­ly with the local gov­ern­ment, reli­gious author­i­ty and asso­ci­a­tions, as well as facil­i­tat­ing rein­te­gra­tion of return­ing vic­tims at the airport.

In recent months, a pro­gram of assist­ed repa­tri­a­tion for women, main­ly moth­ers with chil­dren, who request assis­tance in return­ing to Nige­ria (a vast major­i­ty do so from Italy), with dig­ni­ty and finan­cial means to rebuild their lives has been rolled out. In 2013 the Ital­ian asso­ci­a­tion “Slaves No More ONLUS” was cre­at­ed to pro­vide over­sight for this much-need­ed pro­gram. Under it, vic­tims who wish to repa­tri­ate are pro­vid­ed with air­fare and a bud­get for a per­son­al rein­te­gra­tion work­ing project planned and imple­ment­ed in coop­er­a­tion with the Niger­ian sis­ters oper­at­ing in shel­ters in Benin City and Lagos.

Under the pro­gram of Reset­tle­ment with Vol­un­tary Repa­tri­a­tion and Financed Social Rein­te­gra­tion Project, traf­fick­ing vic­tims who choose to reset­tle in their own coun­try are assist­ed in a mul­ti­tude of ways. To date, “Slaves No More” has ful­ly assist­ed and repa­tri­at­ed 12 women and 8 chil­dren born in Italy under dif­fer­ent circumstances.

The Reset­tle­ment with Vol­un­tary Repa­tri­a­tion and Financed Social Rein­te­gra­tion Project uti­lizes the net­works of women reli­gious to:

§  Coun­sel vic­tims in Italy about oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able to them upon return to Nige­ria (e.g. loca­tion, vocational/education programs);

§  Reset­tle moth­ers and chil­dren into pri­vate apart­ments, on their own, with their month­ly rent paid by the asso­ci­a­tion “Slaves No More” for two years;

§  Reg­is­ter chil­dren in school while assist­ing moth­ers in launch­ing their own small businesses;

§  Cov­ers costs for con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion for young women who wish to go to school;

§  Meet a new­ly repa­tri­at­ed woman (and her chil­dren) at the air­port with a warm wel­come, trans­fer to the shel­ter and lat­er accom­pa­ny them into their new sit­u­a­tion and settlement;

§  Make advance arrange­ments to assist a returnee in tak­ing on a spe­cif­ic project on return. A returnee can remain in the shel­ter in Lagos, with reli­gious sis­ters to assist her with read­just­ment to a new life and sit­u­a­tion in Nigeria;

Most of the women who returned to Nige­ria under the aus­pices of this project have cho­sen and been sup­port­ed in start­ing their own busi­ness – gen­er­al stores, gro­cery store, pro­vi­sion store, mini-mart, tai­lor­ing, hair salon. One repa­tri­at­ed traf­fick­ing vic­tim was accept­ed to uni­ver­si­ty and is cur­rent­ly attending.

13. Counter-Traf­fick­ing: The Church Teach­ing and Leading

Giv­en the glob­al and vicious nature of human traf­fick­ing, we are extreme­ly blessed to have the unpar­al­leled care, con­cern and lead­er­ship of Pope Fran­cis on this issue. From the ear­ly days of his Pon­tif­i­cate, we have heard him say­ing: “human traf­fick­ing is mod­ern-day slav­ery” and this prac­tice is a “crime against human­i­ty”. As Pro­fes­sor Mar­garet Archer, Pres­i­dent of the Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my of Social Sci­ences, not­ed in her let­ter to par­tic­i­pants of this Ple­nary Ses­sion: “…each state­ment has been cru­cial in shap­ing the lead­er­ship that the Catholic Church has assumed and the agen­da she has adopt­ed in spear­head­ing a social move­ment oppos­ing this moral­ly hor­ren­dous treat­ment of human per­sons…”, there­fore we should feel com­pelled to join togeth­er and move for­ward with courage and determination.

In sup­port of this new vision of the Church at the ser­vice of mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple the world over who are entan­gled in the dehu­man­iz­ing net of human traf­fick­ing, I’d like to note two impor­tant ini­tia­tives which have recent­ly tak­en place:

Ø  “The Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Reli­gious Lead­ers Against Slav­ery” signed in the Vat­i­can on Decem­ber 2, 2014. Pope Fran­cis, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sev­er­al oth­er church lead­ers, con­vened this his­toric ini­tia­tive to inspire action by all glob­al faiths and peo­ple of good will to erad­i­cate slav­ery across the globe by 2020. In all, 12 dif­fer­ent reli­gions or Chris­t­ian church­es were rep­re­sent­ed.[1] The event gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant glob­al media attention.

Ø  The First Inter­na­tion­al Day of Prayer and Aware­ness Against Human Traf­fick­ing orga­nized and launched on Feb­ru­ary 8, 2015, by the inter­na­tion­al net­work of women reli­gious Tal­itha Kum and the USMI Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sev­er­al Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cils and with the full sup­port of Pope Fran­cis. The event took place on the litur­gi­cal feast of St. Josephine Bakhi­ta, a Sudanese slave who became a saint. This spe­cial day aimed to more active­ly involve Bish­ops’ Con­fer­ences, Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties, media and orga­ni­za­tions world­wide to com­bat this glob­al scourge. “No more slaves, but broth­ers and sis­ters” was the cen­tral theme used for prayer, reflec­tion and aware­ness. Many coun­tries, dio­ce­ses and media the world over gave great atten­tion to this event. In Rome, the day was cel­e­brat­ed with a spe­cial Prayer Vig­il, organ­ised in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Pope John XXIII Asso­ci­a­tion, attend­ed by hun­dreds of peo­ple from all walks of life – Car­di­nals to insti­tu­tion­al lead­ers, reli­gious and Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties, res­cued vic­tims and asso­ci­a­tions. A Eucharis­tic Cel­e­bra­tion was also orga­nized on Sun­day, Feb­ru­ary 8, con­cel­e­brat­ed by Car­di­nals, Bish­ops, reli­gious and lay peo­ple. The cel­e­bra­tion was fol­lowed by Pope Fran­cis’ Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, recall­ing vic­tims of traf­fick­ing and slav­ery. An online ini­tia­tive includ­ed “light­ing a can­dle” to enlight­en the world against human traf­fick­ing; Pope Fran­cis joined oth­ers the world over in this ini­tia­tive (http://a‑

            14. Con­clu­sion: A Call For Action

In respond­ing to the demands of a world in con­stant change and need, we are each called to offer our con­tri­bu­tion to free the slaves of today’s glob­al human trade. Each one of us has a role to play so that, as Pope Fran­cis implores, there might be “no more slaves, but only broth­ers and sis­ters”.

Accord­ing to each spe­cif­ic role and func­tion, we call upon:

Ø  The Glob­al Econ­o­my to devel­op strong and fair eco­nom­ic sys­tems to offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to women for a bet­ter life, with­out being forced to sell their bod­ies to survive;

Ø  The State to draft and apply leg­is­la­tion to sup­press and pun­ish traf­fick­ing in per­sons and pro­tect, legal­ize and rein­te­grate victims;

Ø  The Glob­al Fam­i­ly to demand effec­tive legal mea­sures to pros­e­cute those involved in sex­u­al exploita­tion, and to safe­guard the fam­i­ly val­ues of fideli­ty, love and unity;

Ø  The Church to advance its Chris­t­ian vision of sex­u­al­i­ty and man-woman rela­tion­ships, to safe­guard and pro­mote the dig­ni­ty of every woman cre­at­ed in God’s image;

Ø  The Schools to impart to our chil­dren, the next gen­er­a­tion, val­ues based on mutu­al respect for gender;

Ø  The Glob­al Media to project a com­plete, bal­anced and accu­rate image of women that restores them to their full human val­ue, pre­sent­ing them as pow­er­ful sub­jects and not objects.

Only by work­ing togeth­er will we find suc­cess in our efforts to break the invis­i­ble chain of mod­ern-day slav­ery – a crime against human­i­ty that binds tens of mil­lions of vic­tims the world over. So we, as mem­bers and friends of main­ly faith-based orga­ni­za­tions with com­mon Chris­t­ian val­ues, hav­ing dif­fer­ent roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties, but belong­ing to the same Human Fam­i­ly, are called to action. Let us com­mit our­selves to com­bat­ing traf­fick­ers and free­ing their vic­tims with three Rs: res­cue, reha­bil­i­ta­tion and reintegration.

I will end with the words of our dis­tin­guished host, Mar­garet Archer, Pres­i­dent of the Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my of Social Sci­ences: “This Ple­nary Meet­ing of the Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­my of Social Sci­ences (PASS) has the respon­si­bil­i­ty not sim­ply of adding our voic­es in uni­son but of car­ry­ing the move­ment for­ward by giv­ing ‘moral out­rage’ new ele­ments of a con­crete Agen­da for elim­i­nat­ing this Crime against Human­i­ty – in both its caus­es and its consequences”.

So may we all go for­ward, with that respon­si­bil­i­ty, as well as with the sense of redis­cov­ery of our own prophet­ic roles and con­tri­bu­tions to bring­ing an end to mod­ern-day slav­ery in our time, and uplift­ed in know­ing that none of us is work­ing alone – but in col­lab­o­ra­tion, not com­pe­ti­tion or iso­la­tion. As we are called in Isa­iah 1:17, “seek jus­tice, res­cue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the wid­ow”. These are the most vul­ner­a­ble of God’s peo­ple, and among them are vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing. Let us not for­sake them, as God has not for­sak­en us.

Thank you for your attention.




·      Schi­ave (Slaves), pub­lished in Ital­ian and Pol­ish, by Sr. Euge­nia Bonet­ti & Anna Pozzi. Ed. San Pao­lo, 2015.

·      Spez­zare le Catene (Break­ing the Chains), pub­lished in Ital­ian and Por­tuguese, by Sr. Euge­nia Bonet­ti & Anna Pozzi. Ed. Riz­zoli, Decem­ber 2011.

·      Stop Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings: Togeth­er It’s Pos­si­ble, Pro­ceed­ings of the inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence “21st Cen­tu­ry Slav­ery: The Human Rights Dimen­sion of Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings”. Rome, May 2002.

·      Build­ing a Net­work: A Prophet­ic Role of Women Reli­gious in the Fight Against Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons, Pro­ceed­ing of an Inter­na­tion­al Sem­i­nar in Rome for Women Reli­gious: Rome, Octo­ber 2007.

·      Slaves No More, Casa Rut, the Courage of a Com­mu­ni­ty, pub­lished in Ital­ian and Eng­lish, by Sr. Rita Gia­ret­ta. Edi­zioni Mar­lin, 2009.

·      Behind Bars (Dietro le Sbarre): Ten Years of the Min­istry of Women Reli­gious at the Cen­tre of Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Expul­sion of Ponte Gale­ria in Rome: 2003–2013. Pub­lished in Ital­ian and Eng­lish, USMI and Slaves No More ONLUS, 2013.

·      Traf­fick­ing in Women and Chil­dren: It is a Crime Against Human­i­ty, A hand­book for schools in Nige­ria, by Sr. Patri­cia Ebeg­bulem, pub­lished by COSUDOW & ANAHT, Nigeria.


·      Dieci Anni di Lavoro in Rete (10 Years of Net­work­ing), pub­lished by USMI Counter-Traf­fick­ing Office, Octo­ber 2010.

·       “No More Slaves, but Broth­ers”, Mes­sage by Pope Fran­cis for the 48th World Day of Peace, 1 Jan­u­ary 2015.

·      Slaves No More: The Strength of Net­work­ing in Counter-Traf­fick­ing: Aware­ness Paper. USMI & Slaves No More ONLUS, April 2015.

·      Rein­te­gra­tion: Facil­i­tat­ing Reset­tle­ment in Host Coun­tries or Coun­tries of Ori­gin, Con­fer­ence on Com­bat­ing Human Traf­fick­ing Through Lever­ag­ing Catholic Net­works and NGOs, Palaz­zo San Cal­is­to, Vat­i­can City, 12 May 2012.

·      Women Help­ing Women: The Ital­ian Expe­ri­ence of Women Reli­gious in Com­bat­ing Human Traf­fick­ing and Mod­ern-Day Slav­ery, deliv­ered at the UN/Geneva, Sep­tem­ber 2014.

·      Fight­ing Against Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings: A Joint Effort, from and evening debate at Women Help­ing Women in Counter-Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons, Brus­sels, Bel­gium, 26 Novem­ber 2014.

·      Traf­fick­ing in Human Beings: Address­ing Root Caus­es of Mod­ern Forms of Slav­ery, Brus­sels, Bel­gium, 27 Novem­ber 2014.

·      Sem­i­nar on Traf­fick­ing with a spe­cial focus on chil­dren: “Inter­na­tion­al Net­works to Pre­vent Traf­fick­ing and to Res­cue and Re-inte­grate the Vic­tims”, Casi­na Pio IV, Vat­i­can City 27 April 2015.





The vol­un­tary assist­ed Project for Social-Labour Rein­te­gra­tion con­sists of fur­nish­ing assis­tance to immi­grant traf­fick­ing vic­tims who desire a vol­un­tary and imme­di­ate return to their coun­try of ori­gin. The project – which cov­ers the cost of trav­el, vocational/educational train­ing, logis­ti­cal and finan­cial assis­tance – ensures that the process of return is car­ried out with respect to the dig­ni­ty of the per­son and the secu­ri­ty con­cerns of the migrant.

Addi­tion­al ele­ments of the pro­gram include:

·      Des­ig­na­tion and assess­ment of the case;

·      Accom­pa­ny­ing the per­son with finan­cial, logis­ti­cal, emo­tion­al assistance;

·      Design of an indi­vid­ual project of social-labour rein­te­gra­tion in the coun­try of ori­gin (which

takes account of the capac­i­ty and expec­ta­tions of the migrant);

·      Guid­ance and sup­port for the achieve­ment of the indi­vid­ual project;

·      Research of con­tact with the fam­i­ly and recon­struc­tion of fam­i­ly ties.

These pro­grams of assist­ed return are con­duct­ed on an indi­vid­ual basis and are always in response to a vol­un­tary request from the immi­grant traf­fick­ing victim.

The project is man­aged and sup­port­ed by the asso­ci­a­tion Slaves No More ONLUS, presided by Con­so­la­ta Mis­sion­ary Sr. Euge­nia Bonet­ti, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Car­i­tas Ital­iana. It is financed by the Ital­ian Bish­ops Con­fer­ence (CEI), with the sub­si­dies of the Ital­ian “8x1000” law. Orga­niz­ers are cur­rent­ly inves­ti­gat­ing oth­er fund­ing sources, such as pri­vate donors. Sr. Moni­ka Chik­we, of the Hos­pi­tal Sis­ters of Mer­cy, is the direc­tor of this project. Both Sr. Euge­nia and Sr. Moni­ka live and work in Rome.


1.     Encour­age and sup­port the social-labour rein­te­gra­tion in Nige­ria of women vic­tims of traf­fick­ing host­ed in Italy in shel­ters who vol­un­tar­i­ly desire to return to their homeland.

2.     Encour­age and sup­port the social-labour rein­te­gra­tion in Nige­ria of women vic­tims of traf­fick­ing expelled from Ital­ian ter­ri­to­ry and repa­tri­at­ed through the Cen­tres of Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Expul­sion (CIE). This group of traf­fick­ing vic­tims must accept to com­ply with the Project before forced repa­tri­a­tion in Nigeria.

3.     Con­duct aware­ness and sen­si­ti­za­tion cam­paigns in Niger­ian and Italy with the aim of pre­vent­ing the phe­nom­e­non of traf­fick­ing for the pur­pos­es of labour and sex­u­al exploita­tion and to cre­ate a sig­nif­i­cant under­stand­ing of the phe­nom­e­non, includ­ing in civ­il and reli­gious insti­tu­tions for the pur­pos­es of com­bat­ting it more effectively.



·      Niger­ian women traf­fick­ing vic­tims who freely express the desire to be assist­ed in their return to their home­land (vol­un­tary or forced), iden­ti­fied through a process of pre-selec­tion and train­ing man­aged by the asso­ci­a­tion Slaves No More ONLUS;

·      Niger­ian women who are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble and poten­tial vic­tims of trafficking.


·      Mem­bers of the Ital­ian and Niger­ian eccle­sial com­mu­ni­ties who will be informed and sen­si­tized to the phe­nom­e­non of human traf­fick­ing for the pur­pos­es of sex­u­al and labour exploitation.

Projects will not be stan­dard­ized, but assigned only in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the ben­e­fi­cia­ry, in accor­dance with her pro­file, her neces­si­ties, require­ments, dreams and needs. Every micro-project will have a spe­cif­ic bud­get for a max­i­mum amount agreed to by the rel­e­vant parties.

An effec­tive process of pre-selec­tion and accom­pa­ni­ment in Italy is fun­da­men­tal, tech­ni­cal­ly based in objec­tive cri­te­ria (nation­al­i­ty, legal sta­tus…), but above all sub­jec­tive (deter­mi­na­tion of desire to return to their home­land, per­son­al his­to­ry, training…).

This project is achieved in col­lab­o­ra­tion with reli­gious sis­ters and asso­ci­a­tions which oper­ate on the ground in Nige­ria, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Com­mit­tee for the Sup­port of the Dig­ni­ty of Women (COSUDOW), and the Niger­ian Con­fer­ence of Women Reli­gious, oper­at­ing in Lagos and Benin City. Uti­liz­ing its exten­sive net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tions and knowl­edge of the local con­text, these asso­ci­a­tions man­age all the process­es of the social-labour reintegration.

In the first phase, this will be a pilot project for a min­i­mum num­ber of ben­e­fi­cia­ries, for eval­u­at­ing and then pos­si­bly extend­ing it to larg­er num­bers with this modal­i­ty, build­ing good prac­tices to even­tu­al­ly repli­cate in oth­er contexts.

* Edi­to­r­i­al con­tri­bu­tions made by Amy Roth San­droli­ni, for­mer Pub­lic Affairs Coor­di­na­tor at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.


[1] Pope Fran­cis; Her Holi­ness Mata Amri­tanan­damayi (Amma); Ven­er­a­ble Bhikkhu­ni Thich Nu Chan Khong (rep­re­sent­ing Zen Mas­ter Thích Nhất Hạnh); The Most Ven. Datuk K Sri Dham­maratana, Chief High Priest of Malaysia; Rab­bi Dr. Abra­ham Sko­r­ka; Rab­bi Dr. David Rosen; Dr. Abbas Abdal­la Abbas Soli­man, Under­sec­re­tary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif (rep­re­sent­ing Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar); Grand Aya­tol­lah Moham­mad Taqi al-Modar­resi; Sheikh Naziyah Raz­zaq Jaa­far, Spe­cial advi­sor of Grand Aya­tol­lah (rep­re­sent­ing Grand Aya­tol­lah Sheikh Basheer Hus­sain al Najafi; Sheikh Omar Abboud; Most Revd and Right Hon Justin Wel­by, Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury; His Emi­nence Met­ro­pol­i­tan Emmanuel of France (rep­re­sent­ing His All-Holi­ness Ecu­meni­cal Patri­arch Bartholomew).

[2] Asso­ci­a­tion: Slaves No More ONLUS, Head­quar­ters: Casa di accoglien­za Maria Mad­dale­na, Via Falzarego, 20 — 00048 Net­tuno (Roma), Tel. & Fax: +39 069807871, Email:, Con­tacts: Sis­ter Mon­i­ca: / (+39) 339.765.7207, Sis­ter Euge­nia: / (+39) 339.193.4538, Bank details: Codice Fiscale/Partita Iva: 97734010586, Ban­ca Popo­lare Eti­ca — Fil­iale di Roma, Coord. IBAN IT55 0050 1803 2000 0000 0156877.

APRIL 16 — Understanding the Nexus Between Children’s Rights and Human Rights Due Diligence







Adlaudatosi Webinars Videos VIMEO

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Religious Helping Trafficking Victims along the Road of Recovery (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

Religious Working In International Advocacy Against Human Trafficking (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

Impact Of Human Trafficking On Health: Trauma (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

Impact Of Human Trafficking On Health: Healing (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

International Prosecution Of Human Trafficking — Where Are We Now? (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

International Prosecution Of Human Trafficking — What can be done? (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

International Prosecution Of Human Trafficking — Best Practices (ON-DEMAND VIDEO WEBINAR)

Demand As Root Cause For Human Trafficking – Sex Trafficking & Prostitution

Human Trafficking — Interview with Prof. Michel Veuthey, Order of Malta — 44th UN Human Right Council 2020

POPE’S PAYER INTENTION FOR FEBRUARY 2020: Hear the cries of migrants victims of human trafficking


Church on the frontlines in fight against human trafficking



Catholic social teaching

Doctrine sociale de l’Église catholique

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