An 18-year-old victim of human trafficking, identified simply as Victoria, has told PUNCH Metro that she became a prostitute at the age of 10 because she was gullible to trust an elderly woman who promised her a job as shop assistant in Lagos.
Victoria said eight years ago, she was living in Cross River State with her aunty, who was married to a wife beater, adding that the offer from the elderly woman was like a God-sent because she wanted a new life.
She said by the time she got to Lagos, she discovered that she had been deceived and that she was brought to the city to prostitute herself for the kinswoman.
Victoria said, “I was living with my elder sister in Cross River State when I came across the woman in my community. She told me that her mother needed a shop assistant in Lagos. My parents were dead at the time and my sister was in an unhappy marriage with a husband who beat her frequently.
“It seemed better at the time to start a new life than to continue with living with my sister and her husband. I left the house early one morning without telling anyone just as I had been instructed and was brought to Lagos with one other young boy.”
Victoria said she was taken to a house somewhere in Ikeja, which, from all appearances, seemed to be an ordinary residential building but, in reality, it was a brothel.
She said at the place so many young women lived and worked, adding that its owner was the mother of the elderly lady who had convinced her to move to Lagos.
She stated, “When it was evening, the old woman gave me a short skirt to wear and explained that I was to work as a prostitute. I was aghast and protested violently so she tried her best to cajole me.
“For a week, I refused to do anything and in the second week, I was able to run away from the house.
“Unfortunately, I was caught, brought back and locked up in a room, where the old woman called in four boys to gang-rape me.
“After that incident, I was forced to earn my living as a prostitute. Every day, they brought different men to sleep with me, and the madam usually collects the money. I never saw a dime.
“I believe some policemen knew what was going on in that house, they never did anything. They would just come to collect money from the madam and go.
“It was after a team of policemen from Force Criminal Investigation Department, annex, Alagbon, Lagos raided the brothel that I got my freedom and was handed over to the officials of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons.”
PUNCH Metro gathered that at NAPTIP, Victoria underwent a six-year-nine-month rehabilitation course programme. She is one of the seven recipients of an empowerment programme by the agency.
She underwent training in fashion designing. After the training, she was equipped with sewing machines, other tools and money.
Victoria said, “I am determined to be self sufficient. These are things our parents could not afford. We are truly thankful and grateful.”
Another victim, Sarah, who took up hairdressing during her stay with NAPTIP, told PUNCH Metro that she was sold as a sex slave by a pastor who headed a local church.
She said, “My mum and I lived in Ondo State. One day, a pastor who was very cordial with my mum suggested I came to Lagos to work for his sister as a sales girl. Although we did not attend his church, he was quite respected in the community and my mum was persuaded that it was a better option than staying back in the village as a farmer.
“My mother gave her consent and along with four other girls, I got into a bus with the pastor and we supposedly headed for Lagos.”
Unknown to Sarah and the other girls, they were headed for Burkina Faso where they were to be sold as sex slaves.
She said, “Till today, I cannot say what really happened. All I remember now is that we awoke to find ourselves in Burkina Faso.
Luckily for Sarah, one of her companions befriended a Burkinabe citizen who frequented the brothel. It was this new friend who aided their escape after they took him into confidence.
To give the impression that they were still within the neighbourhood, all the five girls strolled out of the brothel with just a piece of wrapper tied across their chests. They met up with their new friend who took them to the Nigerian Embassy.
Sarah said, “I was later brought to Nigeria and handed over to NAPTIP. I was able to call my mum and tell her my ordeal. Somehow, the pastor got wind of my escape and fled the community before he could be arrested.”
The Zonal Commander of NAPTIP, Mr. Famakin Joseph, handing over the sewing machines and hairdryers to the seven victims said, “Vocational training is not the only option available to victims of human trafficking. We currently have a victim who is an undergraduate at the University of Markudi and NAPTIP is footing the bill.
“We will continue to monitor the progress of these young women because we want them to become useful members of the society. They are assured of our continued support even as they are being reintegrated back into society.”