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 sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic work in cities such as Aboekuta, Calabar, Ibadan, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. Traffickers exploit victims in sex trafficking, as well as 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. Those most vulnerable to trafficking include people from rural communities, IDPs, irregular migrants, those working in the informal economy, and those with disabilities. Extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunity, corruption, insecurity throughout the country, as well as climate change-related pressure to migrate increase Nigerians’ vulnerability to trafficking. Extreme flooding in the north and southeast has exacerbated already challenging conditions, placing residents at increased risk of trafficking. Highly-organized criminal groups, sometimes linked to Nigerian cult organizations or confraternities, are responsible for most sex trafficking to Europe. Criminal elements recruit foreigners for labor trafficking within the country.
There are reports that teachers and actors posing as teachers in Quranic schools coerce students to beg. Observers report worsening poverty related to the pandemic’s economic impacts may have increased the enrollment of these schools, as well as the risks of exploitation of the children by teachers, businesses, and local community members seeking labor.
Illicit actors operate “baby factories,” which the government and NGOs describe as a widespread criminal industry in the country most prevalent in the southern part of 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 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.
Traffickers exploit children in forced labor, including in granite quarries and artisanal mines, construction, agriculture, transportation, street hawking and begging, and domestic service. Observers in previous reporting periods stated 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. NGO and media sources reported Nigerian traffickers compelled Cameroonian child refugees, displaced by Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis and staying in camps in Nigeria, to work in forced labor in domestic service.
Authorities identified Nigerian trafficking victims – often exploited by Nigerian traffickers – in countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East during the reporting period. Media and government officials reported an increase in trafficking to the UAE. Criminal groups and brothel owners exploit Nigerian women and girls in sex trafficking within Nigeria and throughout Europe, including in France, Italy, Spain, and Austria. Traffickers commonly send victims to Italy, Spain, and the UK for sex trafficking. 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. 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. Traffickers often threaten victims’ families in Nigeria to maintain control; illicit recruiters generally target women and girls from impoverished families, and require them to take a loyalty oath to their traffickers. Some victims’ parents encourage them to obey their traffickers and endure exploitation to earn money.
Trafficking victims originate from throughout Nigeria. In previous years Edo, Delta, Kano, Abia, Ebonyi, Imo, and Kogi were among the most common origin states. During a previous reporting period, an international organization noted cases of labor trafficking involving domestic workers to Türkiye, the Middle East, and Gulf states increased. Reports of men coerced into sex trafficking and drug running to Europe also increased. In a previous reporting period, an international organization reported traffickers recruited women and girls from IDP camps in Northeast Nigeria for ostensibly legitimate jobs in Europe but exploited them in sex trafficking in North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. Experts stated traffickers recruit victims directly from asylum or migrant reception centers in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
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.
Traffickers 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. Traffickers also exploit irregular migrants in forced labor and sex trafficking at multiple stages of their journey through Northern Africa to Europe. Libyan and Nigerian illicit actors exploit Nigerians in Libya in forced labor in construction and agriculture, and in sex trafficking 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.
There are approximately two million IDPs in the country and over 340,000 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 systems. Violence stemming from expanding terrorist threats exacerbated the vulnerability of many IDPs and limited the government’s ability to respond to the trafficking threat throughout much of the north. Reports indicate government officials, as well as security forces, and aid workers have committed sexual exploitation crimes – including sex trafficking – in government-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities, including around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Additionally, there were reports from previous reporting periods traffickers exploited IDPs moving to cities such as Gombe and Kano and to neighboring countries such as Niger in forced labor.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued their practice of forcibly recruiting, abducting, and using child soldiers as young as 12 years of age as cooks, spies, messengers, bodyguards, armed combatants, as well as 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 for the purpose of sexual slavery to its fighters and becoming suicide bombers, with the terrorist organization frequently using drugs to control victims’ behavior. An NGO previously reported 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 sex trafficking rings in the prison.
The Nigerian military coordinated some operations with the CJTF to combat Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in northeastern Nigeria. Insecurity in northeast Nigeria prevented observers from accessing many areas in Borno State and other regions of concern to investigate allegations of child soldier recruitment or use. During a 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.