"Wealth is just one of tens of thousands of young women from Nigeria who have been trafficked to Europe for sexual exploitation over the past 15 years, according to the Nigerian National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), which was founded in 2003 to combat the problem. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 80% of Nigerian women traveling to Libya and attempting to then cross the Mediterranean are being trafficked into the European sex trade. Most, like Wealth, are from Nigeria’s southwestern Edo State, and its capital, Benin City, where a combination of poverty and lack of opportunity have driven thousands of young women, who are expected to financially support their families, to seek their fortune abroad. But it is that primitive oath—the ancient ritual Wealth participated in before she left Italy—that keeps many young Nigerian women bound to the sex trafficking trade, desperately afraid of the curse that might befall them if they break its terms.
The power of the “juju” curse shouldn’t be underestimated, says trafficking expert Siddharth Kara, director of the program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. It makes the sex trafficking trade particularly lucrative and nearly impossible to prosecute. The oath-taking ceremony, conducted by a ‘juju’ priest and performed in front of a carved wooden idol, is typically accompanied by animal sacrifice and incantations. In Wealth’s case, she offered up snippets of her fingernails, pubic hair, menstrual blood and undergarments, which the priest bound into a small bundle and blessed. As long as the bundle remained at the shrine, Wealth would be bound to her oath. If she broke it, she would be cursed."