Interview: Sister Monica Rowland

At the Santa Marta Conference 2018 we spoke to Sister Monica Rowland of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Edo State, Nigeria about the work being done to combat human trafficking in Nigeria and the importance of working collaboratively.

Sister, could you explain to us some of the realities of human trafficking in Nigeria?

The realities of human trafficking in Nigeria are very, very pathetic, very dehumanising.

You discover that young innocent girls between the ages of 14 -25 are being deceived by traffickers, normally referred to as ‘Madams’. They promise them a better life in their ‘new world’ if they agree to follow them and promise them good things but often they are deceptions.

By the time they get to the ‘new world’ they discover that it is actually a different ballgame – they are being given out to men for commercial sex.

Before they even leave Nigeria they are taken to a native ‘doctor’ to take an oath and they do a lot of voodoo to say that if they dare leave their destination that they will die and their families will perish.

So, these young women often live in perpetual fear – fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of what is to come.

They are being enslaved, they are trapped with these Madams until they have been able to pay the ransom, which is often so huge that they, being already poor, cannot afford to pay it.

They are forced to stay with the Madam to be used for commercial sex until, eventually, they can pay the money. Most of them, in the process, contract diseases like HIV and some of them die. If they are lucky they are able to escape.

But in the midst of it the Catholic Church in Nigeria is at the forefront of trying to help to solve this issue of human trafficking and illegal migration.

We have a lot of young men trapped in Libya they are being used for cheap labour – some of them have their organs harvested. They are tortured and when they die they just throw them in the sea.

The Church in Edo State and the government are trying to see what they can do to help those who are returning back home. We, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, are a catalyst trying to help between Church and State.

One of our Sisters heads the rehabilitation session of this taskforce. So far, we have 2,754 young people who have returned back from Libya. When they arrive, Sister with her group will go to welcome them along with medical personnel and different groups to help them rehabilitate. Firstly, they receive medical treatment then they give them toiletries and other things they will need. Thereafter they will continue to pay them 20,000 naira for three months to help them settle down and find a job.

The issue of human trafficking and illegal migration is a major concern for the Church and so we work hand-in-hand with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and others.

How important do you think it is to have international cooperation and to work with other members of the Santa Marta Group?

It is indeed very important because this problem is not a national one – it is an international one.

So, if together we can collaborate we can achieve a lot. I think we are in the right direction with the Santa Marta Group.

The Santa Marta Group in England and Wales has assisted us with awareness campaigns providing materials to assist us to make sure other young men and women will not fall victims. So, it is very important that we collaborate.

What is the biggest challenge going forward?

The biggest challenge right now is funding, because if you are to cover a large range of people you need a lot of money to do that. We will continue to do our best to see how much we can achieve.