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Nigeria must stop voodoo sex trafficking gangs smuggling young girls to Europe

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voodoo sex trafficking gangs

Earlier this month, Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was forced to deny allegations it had hired witch doctors to help prevent young women being smuggled out of the country to work as prostitutes in Europe. While admitting the agency is attempting to engage with as many sections of society as possible in order to gain a better understanding of the role they play in the country’s massive problem with human trafficking and modern slavery, NAPTIP head of press Josiah Emerole claimed the organisation had merely spoken with witch doctors in an effort to dissuade them from placing voodoo curses on people smugglers’ victims. Juju oaths are routinely used by traffickers to make their victims believe they or a member of their family will come to some sort of serious harm or die if they fail to comply with their captors’ demands. Where the NAPTIP once arrested priests known to have carried out these types of rituals, the agency now seeks to “sensitise” them to the harm they cause by brainwashing trafficking victims, Emerole said. Whether or not this new approach will be of any benefit whatsoever remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the Nigerian government’s attempts to stop vulnerable young women being trafficked out of the country after being put through juju rituals have so far failed spectacularly.

For years now, law enforcement authorities across Europe and beyond have reported rescuing petrified young Nigerian women who have been put through horrific juju rituals before being smuggled into brothels and forced to sell their bodies for sex. Rather than declining, evidence suggests the rate at which traffickers are abusing these women is on the rise, fuelled in no small part by the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis. Only last week, police in Spain and the UK said they had arrested 12 people suspected of being members of an international human trafficking network that used juju magic to control the young women it exploited. The gang is said to have pulled out victims’ pubic hair and forced them to eat raw chicken as part of voodoo rituals before trafficking them to brothels mostly situated in Italy and Spain. No more than a few weeks earlier, Spanish police rescued 16 Nigerian women who had been trafficked into the country before being forced to work as prostitutes. Prior to being taken from their home country, the women were reported to have been put through ritualistic juju ceremonies, during which they were made to believe they would suffer death, insanity or serious illness if they disobeyed their captors, refused to sell their bodies or went to the police.

The fear these voodoo rituals instil is so strong and pervasive that victims have been known to escape protective custody after being rescued in a bid to return to their captors, petrified that breaking the oath they had sworn would damn either them or their close family members to death. The hold the curses have on victims can also make it incredibly difficult for police to build a case against members of people smuggling gangs, who use juju magic to convince the vulnerable young women they exploit that cooperating with authorities will result the oath they have sworn being broken. As a consequence, it is rare for members of Nigerian trafficking gangs to be brought to justice in Europe and other parts of the world in which they operate.

In a rare example of juju traffickers being successfully convicted, a UK court jailed two people smugglers for a total of 10 years for forcing their victims to work as prostitutes in November 2014. Lizzy Idahosa and her partner Jackson Omoruyi were found guilty of inciting prostitution and money laundering at Cardiff Crown Court. One of the pairs’ victims explained how she was cut with a razor, forced to drink dirty water and made to eat snakes and snails during a juju ritual designed to make her believe she would suffer illness, madness, infertility or death if she failed to comply with her captors’ demands. In August 2016, a Dutch court sentenced a Nigerian-born man to seven years behind bars after convicting him of leading an international prostitution ring that used voodoo magic to control its victims. Peter Kwame S and his associates trafficked underage Nigerian girls to the Netherlands after putting them through voodoo rituals in Nigeria to make them swear an oath that they would not go to the police.

The infrequency with which members of Nigerian juju trafficking gangs are brought to justice in Europe and beyond sadly makes these examples remarkable, and in no way indicative of the scale of the problem. In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration estimated that 80% of Nigerian teenage girls and young women who arrived in Italy that year were victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. It is likely many of them were destined to be transported onto brothels in other EU countries. While European law enforcement agencies work hard to safeguard young women and girls unfortunate enough to fall victim to these gangs, the very nature of the “curses” placed upon them make it very difficult to bring traffickers to justice. As such, it is now vital that greater efforts are made to stop the problem at source. Instead of attempting to “sensitise” witch doctors to the harm they are causing by placing juju curses on traffickers’ victims, Nigerian lawmakers should concentrate their efforts on pursing the prosecution of everybody involved in this barbaric trade at their end.

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Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

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poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

Poachers have stolen 96 million abalone sea snails from the coastal waters of South Africa over the past 18 years, leading to a huge collapse in numbers of a species that was once abundant in the region, according to a new report from illegal wildlife trade monitoring NGO Traffic.

The study found that 90% of seas snails smuggled out of South Africa make their way to Hong Kong, where the animal’s meat is considered a delicacy, as it is in many other Asian nations.

Traffic estimates that poachers in South Africa are typically responsible for the disappearance of 2,000 tonnes of abalone every year, more than 20 times the amount that is allowed to be farmed legally.

In total, the illicit market is thought to be worth some $60 million annually.

Traffic’s report, which has been released alongside a documentary that explores the illegal trade, warns that the rocketing illegal harvesting of the animal is resulting in a huge annual loss for the local economy, and is at least partly being controlled by organised crime networks.

According to the study, an average of at least one abalone seizure took place every day between 2000 and 2016.

“Continued illegal harvesting and associated trade will have devastating impacts on abalone stocks and far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences for coastal communities whose economies, to a greater or lesser extent, are dependent on the proceeds of abalone poaching and trade,” the study says.

Noting the trade’s link to organised criminal cartels, it said: “Seizures of abalone often involved seizures of other contraband, commonly cash, cars or drugs.

“A number of seizures have included other high-value wildlife products, suggesting that the syndicates involved are not only focusing on the trade in poached abalone.”

Concluding its report, Traffic makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of traceability systems, regional collaboration with neighbouring countries to prevent the smuggling of abalone, and the setting up of state-driven socio-economic initiatives to stem poaching of the animal.

Abalone can fetch more than $550 a plate in parts of Asia, driving many poor South Africans to take up poaching, risking their lives by diving in search of the in-demand mollusc.

The decline in local populations of sea snails has also been hit by the presence of Asian organised crime groups, who have moved into the area to take advantage of increasing demand for the animal in their home countries.

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No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn

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The UK’s ability to tackle terrorism sand serious organised crime will be severely hampered by a hard Brexit, British police chiefs have warned.

Pulling out of the EU without a deal could see UK law enforcement agencies and security services lose access to vital crime-fighting tools such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s intelligence systems and data held by Europol.

Announcing a new £2 million ($2.6 million) unit that will explore how alternative systems could be used if no deal is struck between the EU and Britain before the end of next March, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton said: “The fallbacks we’re going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it will make it harder for us to protect UK citizens and make it harder to protect EU citizens.”

“We are determined to do everything we can to mitigate that, but it will be hard.”

Using the recent Salisbury Novichok attack as an example of how a no-deal Brexit could impact UK police operations, Thornton noted how much more difficult it would be for Britain to detain the two men suspected of carrying it out should they enter the EU without a European Arrest Warrant in place.

The new unit will examine the effectiveness of non-EU crime fighting institutions and mechanisms, such as Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions.

In a statement on the contingency plans, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said the withdrawal of resources such as the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats would seriously impact Britain’s ability “to track criminals’ movements, monitor sex offenders and locate fugitives”.

“European law enforcement is more effective when we take coordinated action against shared priorities,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General of Operations.

“A lack of access to these European tools would mean a reduction in the ability of the UK to contribute to keeping Europe safe.”

In May, the Times of London reported that France had attempted to block British attempts to remain part of EU security systems after Brexit, quoting one UK government official as saying: “Normally France is quite helpful when it comes to security co-operation but on this they are being awkward.”

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike

The Indian Government has said it is considering taking action to slow the importation of gold into the country, but wants to avoid an increase in importation duties due to fears over smuggling.

A source told India’s PTI news agency that officials are instead considering alternative policy interventions to curb imports, which are having an adverse effect on the value of the rupee.

“There is not much scope for hike in import duty on gold,” the source said.

“Rather, it would be some kind of policy measures to reduce gold import. Higher import duty on gold may increase smuggling activities.”

While failing to specify the measures the Government is considering, the source said raising import duty on gold so close to the festive season would likely result in an increase in smuggling attempts.

Indian officials are due this week to announce a new list of items that will be subject to importation limits as part of wider efforts to cut the country’s growing current account deficit, and stem the fall of the rupee.

A comprehensive list of non-essential items are being considered, including steel, finished steel, furniture, electronics and a number of food items.

The smuggling of gold into India has rocketed over recent years after the Government hiked import duties to 10% in 2013 as part of an earlier effort to cut the country’s current account deficit.

According to the World Gold Council, traffickers smuggled some 120 tons of gold into India last year, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018.

In October last year, customs officers arrested 11 gold mules from Sri Lanka at Madurai Airport who were attempting to smuggle precious metal into the country concealed with their rectums.

Earlier this year, a cabin crew worker from Singapore Airlines was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on suspicion of attempting to smuggle gold into the country.

After searching the flight steward, customs officers discovered gold weighing 1.05kg worth an estimated 3.1 million rupees ($50,000), according to the airport’s Joint Commissioner of Customs Anubha Singh.

Commenting at the time, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson confirmed that a member of its cabin crew staff had been detained by Delhi customs authorities, adding: “Singapore Airlines will provide full co-operation to the investigating authorities. We are unable to provide details of the crew member concerned due to confidentiality reasons.”

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