Masthead for Africa Out of the Shadows


“Human trafficking in Africa is an urgent crisis, with women, children and migrants being especially at risk. Although deep-rooted issues such as poverty, corruption, and cultural beliefs are to blame for this situation, African countries can improve their situations through better law enforcement and legislation. With millions of people already trapped in modern slavery and millions more at risk, it is imperative that Africa takes action to fight human trafficking.” – Massarath Fatima (Source)


When a British-Nigerian couple offered to take Paul, 14 years old, from Nigeria to the UK, enroll him in school, and pay him to perform housework, he accepted. Once in Britain, however, the family changed his name and added him to their family passport as an adopted son. They forced him to clean their house for as many as 17 hours each day for no pay and did not allow him to go to school. They took his passport, set up cameras to monitor his movements, and limited his contact with the outside world. Paul tried several times to escape; once he contacted the police, who told him they did not handle family matters. Eight years after that, Paul heard a radio report about modern slavery and bravely reached out to an NGO. The NGO helped, and the couple was arrested a few months later after having exploited Paul for 24 years. They each received 10-year sentences, six years for servitude and four for other crimes. (Source)
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When Osei was only 6 years old, his parents gave him to a fishing master who promised to provide Osei with a fishing apprenticeship, education, and a job. This was a lie. Instead, he forced Osei and other children to work on a fishing boat for many hours each day in harsh conditions. The master also forced other children into domestic servitude near the lake. None of these children were allowed to go to school. They were not apprentices—they were forced laborers. Government officials and an NGO rescued the children, and they currently reside at a care center where they receive education, shelter, counseling, and other trafficking-specific services to help them heal and take steps to prepare for their futures. (Source)
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Asha, from Sudan, explains how she was recruited in Khartoum and taken to Cairo. They said they would find me work and then they would take me to Italy. When she arrived in Cairo, Asha was told that she would not be going to Europe. Instead she would be “donating” her kidney. She was promised $2,000 if she complied. If not, the men said, they would take her kidney by force. Asha was taken by taxi to a nondescript apartment in Alexandria. After surgery, Asha reported one of the brokers to the police. Asha lives in fear for her life, subjected to threats and intimidation by the broker and his associates. She says she was told that if she did not withdraw her statement, her children would bear the consequences. (Source)
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Aisha was at a friend’s wedding when she was abducted by Boko Haram, along with her sister, the bride, and the bride’s sister. They were taken to a camp where her friends were forcibly married to Boko Haram fighters. Aisha, at 19 years old, had to learn how to fight; she was trained how to shoot and kill, detonate bombs, and execute attacks on villages. She was forced to participate in armed operations, including against her own village; those that refused were buried in a mass grave. Aisha saw more than 50 people killed, including her sister, before she managed to escape. (Source)
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Gloria’s parents would spend every day on the river, hoping to catch enough fish to sell so that they could afford to send their children to school and buy food for them. When her father died, life got even harder for the family. It was up to Gloria’s mother to provide for herself and her 10 young children. “I was 12 years old when I got married to a 35 year old man. They said that the man would take care of me, my siblings, and my mother, due to the poverty levels.” But Gloria knew that her mother couldn’t afford to feed her, buy clothes for her, or pay her school fees, and she felt that if she refused to get married, she wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. In her new role as a wife, Gloria stopped going to school, and instead took care of her husband, and searched for small jobs she could do to earn some money. As a child bride, Gloria also endured the terror and pain of an unwanted physical relationship. After six months, she discovered she was pregnant. (Source)
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Boko Haram attacked Abdul’s village and kidnapped him when he was 14 years old. They trained him to handle assault weapons such as machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. The group kept him and forced him to carry out various operations during which he was forced to kill 18 civilians. They also forced Abdul to gather intelligence on government forces, where he risked being recognized and prosecuted as a Boko Haram member. After being forced to fight for three years, Abdul decided to flee while on a spying mission, but was recognized as Boko Haram and arrested when he entered an internally displaced persons camp to look for his parents. (Source)
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An orphan raised by a foster family, Becky worked as a maid for a wealthy woman in Nigeria, but dreamed of becoming a doctor. Her boss’s daughter lived in Europe and Becky was charmed with stories of a better life there. “She told me, when you come to Europe you’ll have opportunity, you will go to school, everything is going to be OK for you.” After her trafficker paid a ransom to her captors Becky was freed, but her ordeal was far from over. She was pregnant, but says she lost her baby after being given a liquid to drink by her smuggler. There was no time for recovery; she was crammed into a dinghy with four other young women, eventually ending up in a migrant camp in Sicily. She now owed €35,000 to the people who trafficked her to Europe, and they forced her to work the streets to pay it back. She says she was driven to the side of the road and ordered to bring back €200. “If a man sleeps with you the most he can pay is €30. Calculate how many men you have to sleep with to get that,” she says. “You pay, pay, pay, and it never gets finished.” (Source)
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Grace Akallo was just 15 years old when she was captured by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Aboke, northern Uganda. The militant group is notorious for sexually assaulting, kidnapping and killing thousands of civilians. They attacked her boarding school and abducted 139 girls. Grace was among the 30 captives taken to Southern Sudan, where they were tortured, raped and forced to kill. “At first, I was scared of even beating someone else because I was afraid they would get hurt,” she says. When I was forced to kill another human being…that really altered me. It affected me psychologically. Seeing somebody suffer because they are being mutilated is the worst thing you can ever witness.” The children weren’t trained as soldiers. They learned how to dismantle, clean and assemble guns and were thrown in the deep end – battling with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. “It was survival of the fittest,” says Grace. “You had to shoot that gun to get food, you had to fight at the frontline to survive. They [the LRA] said hunger and thirst would teach us everything.” (Source)
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Mattalla spent most of his life as a slave. He often watched his owners beat his mother and sisters. When he protested, they beat him too. Matalla’s job was to take care of livestock and make charcoal. His family lived in a small area of the owners’ settlement surrounded by cloth. They were given no food except for the occasional leftovers and often cooked and ate lizards they caught in the desert. Escape in the Sahara would almost always lead to death by hunger or thirst or at the hands of slave owners who would find them. Mattalla was beaten if he lost a camel, if he sat on the same mat as his owners, or if he disobeyed them. When Mattalla met some soldiers on the road, he told them he’d rather be shot dead than return to his owners. The soldiers helped him escape and receive support from a local NGO. His family remained with the owners. (Source)
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