Sophisticated organised crime gangs are trafficking children from Nigeria to Ireland to work in the sex trade, Europol has warned.
The agency identified Nigerian organised crime gangs as one of the main groups involved in the trafficking of underage victims into the EU by exploiting the migrant crisis and using established criminal networks to ferry the children to Ireland and certain other northern European countries.
Between 2015 and 2017 European law enforcement agencies, including the Garda, identified 268 child trafficking cases involving 3,642 suspects and 985 victims, according to a report released on Thursday.
In Europe children account for over 20 per cent of the victims of trafficking, with most of them aged between 15 and 17.
The report, which was released to mark EU Anti-Trafficking Day, provides the most in-depth account of the child trafficking trade to date.Nigerian gangs tend to target children in their native country. Methods include telling their families there is a well-paying job waiting for their children in the EU or offering the child an all-expenses-paid "trip".
Sometimes traffickers will exploit local superstitions and customs by having “witches” conduct voodoo rituals on the victim to intimidate them into complying with their traffickers.
Once they get to a northern country such as Ireland, the victims are placed under the supervision of a “madam” who makes them work in the sex trade to pay back their “debt”, Europol said. Victims are made repay between €30,000 and €60,000 before being allowed go free.
The agency said Nigerian gangs are particularly problematic as they have sophisticated logistical networks across the EU which allow them to pass victims from one cell to another until they reach a final destination. Victims are often assaulted multiple times along the route by these criminals.
The networks are also unique in that female members are often the ringleaders. Some of these are former trafficking victims themselves who started organising the recruitment of other women to repay their own debt.
The gangs also exploit asylum processes in the EU by having victims pretend they are older so they are placed in shelters for adult migrants, such as direct provision centres in Ireland, “from where their extraction is easily organised”, Europol said.