Thousands of Nigerian girls have been forced into prostitution into nearby Mali, Nigerian officials said.
The girls, mostly under age have typically been promised jobs in Europe but instead ended up in ‘slave camps’ forced to work as prostitutes
Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency revealed the news yesterday after a fact-finding mission to Mali.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," said Simon Egede, the head of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons. "We are talking of certainly between 20,000 and about 40,000."
He didn’t say how they arrived at those figures.
The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria. Mali’s authorities have not made any official comment.
Mr Egede said he led a team from his agency on a fact-minding mission to Mali this month after reports of slave camps full of Nigerian girls in Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya, Morocco and Cape Verde.
The brothels are run by older Nigerian women who stop the girls from leaving and take all their earnings.
According to Egede, the team saw "that the girls are 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.
"I visited two brothels and could not stand it anymore when I saw how the girls sat on two wooden platforms facing each other numbering about 40."
Customers chose among the girls after paying, he said.
The trade centres on Mali’s 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 condition", the agency said. Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, Mr Egede added.
Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Trafficking of Nigerian girls for prostitution in various west African countries, as well as in Europe, has repeatedly drawn the attention of authorities and human rights organisations. Rights groups say the girls are often lured with promises of legitimate jobs. But in some cases, gangs have allegedly used voodoo curses to threaten them.
The anti trafficking agency called for an urgent meeting between west African countries and regional experts on trafficking.