Photograph — The guardian
"I don free” Joy, a 17-year-old Nigerian girl says gleefully as Princess pushes her head in a playful manner. Joy is young, beautiful and simply wants to go to school, but she was forced to Italy for a different school on the streets by her ‘pimp’. Joy is a victim of child trafficking, she is part of the 200 girls, Princess has helped since she opened PIAM Onlus In 1999 with her husband to help trafficked women and those trapped in prostitution. They place the girls in apartments shared with other girls or Nigerian families. Survivors are given residence permits and their families back in Nigeria are protected if they denounce their traffickers.
Princess was also a victim of human trafficking. She was promised a job at a restaurant in Italy, but when she arrived, she was forced into sexual servitude. When she refused to be a prostitute, she was beaten into submission and forced to sell her body to pay off debts that were never ending. This is the reality of trafficked girls who refuse to be sexual slaves. They are severely beaten(some of them are poured hot water) until they agree to the terms of their “madam.”
“We saw people come back from Europe rich and they would tell us that we could also have this life. In Nigeria, there was nothing. I wanted more for my children. This woman said I could pay back the cost of my travel when I started earning. I believed her…..Those who leave Nigeria are told they will need to pay back €15,000 and when they reach Italy the madam tells them their debt is €45,000,” says Princess. “Or they are told they will be able to pay back the debt in three months but when they arrive they must pay rent, for their place on the street, food, and other costs, so they are trapped because the debt never goes away,” she says.
Princess was later found by a priest and an Italian man who she later married that helped her clear her debt after a hell of eight months spent in Turin, Italy. She decided to help set up a charity where she rescued victims of trafficking. According to Princess, rescuing one victim of child trafficking is synonymous to saving 1 thousand girls from becoming traffickers themselves or being trafficked.
Just in the first half of this year, 3,600 Nigerian women arrived Italy by boat. This makes it 9,000 women since 2015 and out of these, 9,000, who might just appear to us as statistics, 80 percent, of them have been trafficked.
“Most Nigerian women who arrive in Italy are already victims of trafficking, many have been subjected to serious sexual exploitation on their journey. Many are forced into prostitution in Libya. The women we are seeing are increasingly young, many are unaccompanied minors when they arrive and the violence and exploitation they face when they are under the control of these gangs is getting worse. They are really treated like slaves,” said Simona Moscarelli, anti-trafficking expert at the International Organisation for Migration
These women do not embark on this journey to Europe because they want to be prostitutes. They are sold a make-believe theory built on a threshold of fairy tales by their traffickers. These theories come from movies, stories and the notion of western supremacy gallantly sold to us that white land, makes one rich and presents opportunities on a platter of gold.
The reason for trafficking varies from poverty to illiteracy, insecurity, desire to migrate and work in countries abroad, and corrupt legal system (the unwillingness of authorities to supervise movement in the boarder). And all these aforementioned are an endemic in our society, hence the number of women that make it to the shore of Italy who are simply victims of a broken society and insecurity, mostly imposed on them by a corrupt government who enrich themselves and spread poverty.
In Nigeria, 65 million people are illiterates while more than 100 million people according to the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo are living in poverty. Our boarders are non-existent and our government, extremely and overwhelmingly corrupt.
The alarming state of girls and women being tricked into servitude might and will continue to rise if our reality isn’t re-written. But in all these negativity, Princess has created a female Italian-Nigerian community who is determined to rescue women and girls from the hands of traffickers.