The New Gendered Plundering of Africa: Nigerian Prostitution in Italy by Carmela Grillone: Featured Review

Carmela “Milly” Grillone’s interest in international criminology resulted from the killing of a member of her family: the anti-mafia police officer Ninni Cassarà, brutally murdered during the “Years of Lead”. After having served as an international development worker in the UN and in NGOs for over a decade in the peripheries of the world (Africa, America, Asia), Milly is now a teacher, a human rights activist involved in various activities in the peripheries of Palermo, and a legal guardian of unaccompanied migrant children.

Her new book with Cambridge Scholars, The New Gendered Plundering of Africa: Nigerian Prostitution in Italy, is a shining example of such activism. It is a powerful and revealing work which transforms the understanding of the phenomenon of prostitution, questions the impact of European and Italian migration and prostitution laws on human rights, and investigates the legal, political and socio-economic conditions that create a permissive environment for trafficking.

In today’s featured review, freelance journalist and International University College of Turin research associate Alagie Jinkang – who has been a witness to this devastating exploitation on the streets of both Niger and Libya ­– explains the seriousness of the situation and the significance of Grillone’s book.

The case of prostituted Nigerian girls is a humanitarian tragedy. Until today the discussion was marginalised and politically less relevant. Grillone has turned that picture around. In explaining the life experiences of enslaved Nigerian girls from Nigeria to Europe through a pattern of violence and organised criminality, she has observed a connection between the Nigerian mafia and the Sicilian “Cosa Nostra” through smuggling, and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This book is a compelling discovery with the underpinning message that these Nigerian girls are not prostitutes but victims of organised criminality as a direct consequence of their lack of proper protection.

 Grillone has entered prisons, asylum camps and hosting centres and followed these girls in their areas of activities. Her encounters and interviews with most young girls showed blackmailing by their own local authorities; brainwashing by their local churches; Nollywood booming propaganda (showing Europe as “The Promised Land”); and a lack of protection within their own families, traditions and cultures. For most of these would-be migrants, the journey to Europe was considered necessary to reach the so-called “Promised Land” but once these mis- and ill-informed Nigerian girls reach the shores of Sicily, the story becomes different. According to National and EU laws, these irregular migrants and asylum seekers must pass through various identification and regularisation, asylum and hosting centres. However, many young girls end up in ghettos, detention centres, prisons and in the streets as ‘drug abusers’, alleged ‘criminals’ or with criminal records, becoming subjects of police attention which lead to their institutional marginalisation – living both in society and outside of it. These are the invisible compelling stories of contemporary slavery, of wounded lives in the area of asylum protection and EU migration that only this book has so far brought us. Some of them are our close friends but the lack of timely, proper, and adequate attention from the asylum camps and beyond has led to their gradual worsening physical and psychological conditions.

 With 6.2 million people enslaved in sub-Saharan Africa, the African Union has recognised slavery as a key challenge to socio-economic development. Nigeria has witnessed a pattern of rapid growth and urbanisation, at the same time, the demand for services needs stronger infrastructures which cannot be met by current political and economic resources. Consequently, this largely unplanned development shapes persistent poverty and inequality patterns that are firmly gendered. Politically, development plans and sustainable anti-slavery policies directed at Nigeria have largely failed to understand the historical heritage of African slavery to enhance anti-slavery communities that are largely patriarchal. Today, slavery and antislavery policies are at a crossroad of politically sensitive issues around identity, citizenship, religion, sovereignty, economic status and history. While we measure the negative impact of the historical slave trade, this book gives us new forms of contemporary slavery which affect thousands of Nigerian girls. Today, there are 46 million slaves worldwide according to the Global Slavery Index. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include the target of ending slavery by 2030.

 This book fundamentally questions our institutions and our perception of prostitution. What is responsible for it? What can be done to create new life experiences and opportunities for such ‘special’ subjects? Where does the life long protection lie for these subjects? Are these lives least important in the national laws, EU laws and international conventions which have promised to protect the human rights of especially vulnerable and needy subjects? Grillone asks. The book is born out of the need to promote life long protective measures to unchain all these victims by reducing vulnerabilities. Her holistic view presents our socio-economic, political and legal institutions as both the problem and solution. On the one hand, she notes that, the so-called Italian and European asylum protection system in its conventional complexities is empowering a lot of vulnerable subjects but in many areas as well, it has not been able to protect a lot of special subjects whose real potentials have been stolen by traumatic life experiences which need real and immediate protective measures. Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers have reached the Sicilian Coast in recent decades. Many of these people are minors who have taken perilous journeys characterised by various difficulties which lead to traumatic experiences (drug abuse, social and mental disabilities, lack of confidence and self security, and other psychological issues) even after reaching Italian coasts and having passed through the asylum camps and on to normal society.

 This book presents a challenge to all of us. It seems we need to question our moral horizons into the understanding that many of these Nigerian girls have no real alternative: they are innocent economic prisoners.”

 To purchase the text or to read an extract, please click here.


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