In her own words: Surviving trafficking in Nigeria

By Kerri Whelan
January 5, 2022

This story is part of a new blog series called “In Her Own Words,” where you’ll read incredibly powerful stories directly from the experts with whom we work: the girls themselves.

Plan International USA is a girls’ rights organization. We aim to be girl centered, girl driven and girl led in all our work to boldly create a more just and equitable world. So, to amplify girls’ voices, we’re introducing a new blog series called “In Her Own Words,” where you’ll read incredibly powerful stories directly from the experts with whom we work: the girls themselves.

Esther’s story of survival in Nigeria is the first of this series.

Please note this story contains references to sexual violence and abuse which some may find upsetting.

I was a girl with a very big dream. I wanted to be a doctor, but it didn’t work out. Maybe because of the poverty. I lost my dad when I was 8 years old, and then everything became tougher for my mom, my siblings and me.

My mom had to marry another man. He would say to me, “You’re not my child so why should I care.” My mom had to do everything. We had to sell things on the street to make enough money to buy food. We would work all day long.

Then one day when I was 16, a woman came to our house and told me she would like me to go with her to Abuja where she promised she would find me work.

I travelled there on the bus with two other girls. When we arrived in Abuja the woman picked us up from the bus stop. She took us to a hotel where I saw lots of girls wearing just their pants and bras. I asked her what I was doing there – why would I be here?

She said, “This is what you’re coming here to do.” She said if I didn’t, I’d have to pay her all the money back for the journey. I cried and cried, but she told me, “Your crying cannot save you.”

I was forced to start having sex with men — all kinds of men. I had to give all the money I made to her. Every day, I had to go out to clubs to sleep with men and she would take all the money. Immediately when I would return home, she’d ask, “Where’s my money?” And I would give it all to her. Sometimes I would make 20 or 30 thousand naira [around $59-$80] a night.

Men would come to the hotel and after a drink they say they want to sleep with you. Even when I was menstruating, I still had to sleep with them. I felt like there was something missing because it was painful for me to go through all those things. I didn’t want my life to be that. I was forced into it and I didn’t have any way out. My life was miserable.

Eventually I met a woman who was teaching at the nearby church. We became friends and she took me to a safe house. Now I’m a caterer and I will soon become a chef.

I used to be very aggressive. I was stubborn because of the life I was used to. I had to learn how to forgive. How to move on and forget about my past. No matter how much someone hurts you, you have to let go. I think I still have the passion to go to school. I want to help someone in the future, that’s what I want to do. I’m so much happier. I have peace. I have everything I can think of in this world.

Conflict in Nigeria has proven ideal ground for traffickers — 94% of victims are women and girls, the majority of whom are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Plan is working with a group of girls who are leading a solidarity campaign to end trafficking in Nigeria. The girls are demanding that federal and state government departments commit to implementing a public awareness campaign that reaches remote communities, to ensure all girls and their families know the risks of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Esther is hopeful that the campaign will make a difference.

My hope is that trafficking will stop. People don’t know enough about it. As far as the Plan’s work is concerned, I know that something will come out of it – something good and special. I know that if all the community comes together with one voice, then the government will hear us.

Esther’s name has been changed to protect her identity.