Church in Italy Helping to Liberate Prostitutes

Mafia Uses "Witch Doctors" to Control Nigerians

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UDINE, Italy, MAR. 19, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The diocesan Caritas has helped free 118 immigrant women exploited by mafias as prostitutes on this city´s streets.



Given the Church humanitarian agency´s success in helping the prostitutes, the mafias are changing strategy, and moving the women off the streets and into closed nightclubs, for hard-core pornographic shows.

Caritas says it costs $36,000 to $45,000 to rescue one of the young women. The women are forced to prostitute themselves in order to pay their debts, which they often acquired before leaving their native country.

Now, "not one of these girls is found on the street," though some have moved into brothels, some operated by Nigerian "madams," reported Caritas coordinator Annarita De Nardo.

The African madams threaten the young women in every possible way. "When certain deadlines arrive, they bring ´native doctors´ from Turin or other cities," De Nardo explained. "The tribal witch doctors perform magic rites on personal objects belonging to the girls, to keep them tied to the blood pact until they pay their debt."

Caritas-Udine is one of the nongovernmental organizations with the greatest experience in rehabilitating these "slave" women. It reckons it helped save 63 women in 1998, and 102 in 1999, with the help of other agencies and state enterprises.

Last year Caritas helped 118 women, including 77 Nigeria, 12 from Albania, 10 from Ukraine, 6 from Romania, five from Colombia, three from Russia, and two from Moldova. The women were either able to return to their countries or integrate into Italian society and hold a decent job.

Meanwhile, Nigeria´s bishops have offered to collaborate with the Church in Italy to prevent or end the prostitution of Nigerian women in Italy.

In a document that concluded the work of the Nigerian bishops´ conference, held from March 5-10, the episcopate recognized the tragedy of these exploited women. "We were stunned to learn that in Italy alone there are 15,000," the bishops said.

The bishops plan to publish a pastoral letter on the problem and to support initiatives promoted by the Conference of Nigerian Religious.