Chijioke Mark Nwakaudu

Breaking the chains of child slavery

National Family Strengthening Programme Coordinator SOS Children's Villages Nigeria

The story is about Simbi1 who had the will and the courage to break the bonds of human slavery against all obstacles that were stacked high against her.
Simbi is a seventeen-year-old girl, but this story started when she was just fourteen, living in the southern part of Nigeria with her mother, four brothers and five sisters. The father who was the bread winner died a few years before that time. The death of the father like in most African families left the family in a dire situation, and it became difficult for the mother to provide and sustain the family. Therefore, Simbi found it difficult to continue with her education after her junior secondary school.

At about the same time a man approached Simbi’s mother and offered to take Simbi to Europe so that she can work and help take care of the family, which the mother accepted without even the consultation or consent of Simbi. We cannot really at this point tell if the mother knew the true nature of work that Simbi was going to be doing when she got to Europe.

Before they left for the journey, Simbi and some other girls were taken to a shrine where a witch doctor made them swear an oath not to run away or report to the police and that they will pay back all the expenses it would cost their host to get them to Europe. They made the girls believe that the implication for breaking the oath was death.

The journey to Italy was a long one as they had to travel from Lagos to Senegal by road for nine days and the names and ages of the girls were changed in a new passport that was given to them. In her new passport Simbi was now a Senegalese with the name Fatum Silla. Simbi reported that during the journey to Senegal one of the older girls on the trip advised Simbi to go back but she was afraid because of the oath and so did not run away.

They travelled to France by air and when they got there the French police suspected the man travelling with them. Simbi was then taken to a community and while there she kept insisting that she wanted to be taken back to Nigeria, but after about two weeks one of the ladies who accompanied the group of girls came up with a fake birth certificate and claimed that she was Simbi’s mother. So Simbi was released to the custody of that woman.

On arriving Turin, Italy in November 2012, Simbi realized she had nowhere to go. Her traffickers told her that she was to pay back a debt of sixty thousand Euros (N12,000,000) as the cost for travelling to Italy and an additional nine hundred and fifty Euros (N190,000) monthly for rent, utility, feeding and the corner of the street where she would be working from at night. Unfortunately, in this condition that she found herself in with no one to help her she was helpless and had to work on the street as a commercial sex worker for six months from November 2012 to April 2013. During this period she was able to pay her traffickers seven thousand Euros.

On one faithful night in April 2013 Simbi got fed up of the whole situation and the lifestyle that she was constrained to live and so decided to end it all! She summoned enough courage to walk up to the police and explained everything to them. When the police heard the story they immediately took her to a community for the protection of minors.

The Italian immigration in Turin then contacted SOS Children’s Villages Italy through an SOS Children’s Villages Italy co-worker who happened to have worked for the Italian immigration before joining SOS Children’s Villages. It was then that SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria was contacted to find out how we could help to bring Simbi back to Nigeria and rehabilitate her, as she kept insisting that she wanted to go back to Nigeria. During this period she stayed there for nine months with the SOS Children’s Villages Italy co-worker, a programme director (incidentally a Nigerian) who acted as her foster mother. Before Simbi was brought back to Nigeria a series of events took place:

  • Simbi while in custody of the police and handed over to the immigration in Italy absconded twice amidst tight security when she thought that she wouldn’t be returned to Nigeria and also relayed to her foster mother how she got tormented in her dream by her “madam” to come back and continue working as a prostitute otherwise she would die.
  • Simbi threatened to commit suicide once after calling her mother in Nigeria who made clear to her that she never wants her back in Nigeria. This depressed her and she felt betrayed by her mother.
  • She agreed to stay with her foster mother based on the assurance that she would definitely be returned to Nigeria and that confidence she got. All efforts to convince her to stay back in Italy with adequate support from the relevant government authorities to help her live a fulfilled life proved abortive. Against all odds, Simbi was convinced that Nigeria is the best place to fulfil her dreams of completing her education and moving further in life.
  • While with the foster mother she learnt manicure and pedicures (basically fixing of nails) as vocational skills and obtained a certificate.
  • With the assistance of her foster mother Simbi also received psychological and spiritual support.
When we at SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria were contacted, we immediately informed the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP) - the agency responsible for this type of case. SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria thought it was wise to involve the relevant government agency as Simbi was a victim of child trafficking and would require some levels of rehabilitation and counselling before she could be supported to develop further like every child. With the support of NAPTIP, the Nigeria Immigration Services did a clearance for Simbi and handed her over to NAPTIP on her arrival in company of her foster mother from Italy. 

Simbi has undergone a series of counselling since her arrival in Nigeria and is presently in one of the youth facilities of SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria. She is participating in a vocational training in dressmaking, pending on when the new school session will start in September so that she can go back to school to fulfil her dream of becoming a lawyer in future.

Simbi is full of life and very optimistic that she will one day fulfil her dream! Her courage from young remains strong and unbroken despite all the things that she went through in the hand of her traffickers for over six months while she worked on the street every night. This courage and fire is one factor that has kept us, in SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria, motivated and committed to make sure that we help Simbi to fulfil her dream.
1 Original name has been changed to maintain confidentiality
Chijioke Mark Nwakaudu
is the National Family Strengthening Programme (FSP) Coordinator of SOS CV Nigeria.

He came to SOS CV with an over ten years wealth of experience in the areas of social development acquired by working with diverse NGOs. During this period, he also had consultancy services with UNICEF, Research Triangle Intern, Actionaid etc. He joined SOS CV in 2009 as FS Programme Coordinatorin Gwagwalada, Abuja/Nigeria. In July 2010 he was moved to the national office as National Coordinator of the FSP.
Today, 2014, the FS programme in Nigeria has grown to 7 programmes and from 600 directly benefiting children before to well over 5,000 children. Many thousands have also been reached indirectly by the end of 2013. “When I joined SOS there were just 3 FS co-workers but today we have over 26 FS co-workers on the programme. It is quite a challenging job but the smiling faces of the children is enough reward and keep us going everyday”.
Mark is from the south-east of Nigeria and was born into a large family of 15 children. His father was a traditional chief married to 3 wives. Growing up in this constellation as a child was for him a wonderful experience. The house was always full. Mark got married two years ago and they have a lovely daughter.  

Leisure time: He loves photography, music and listening to good music irrespective of the genre. He has a little preference for cool rock. He is a strong fan of the Nigerian National Football Team (Super Eagles) and FC Barcelona! At weekends, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.  

Society: He is concerned about constant challenges that Nigeria and most African countries face in the area of good leadership and asks “Why it is so difficult to get the right people in positions of authority”? One way to start solving this problem is to start building leaders at a very young age. This means that every child or young person is a potential leader if given the right preparations. To that end, therefore, he tries to see how he can influence every young person and leave them better a person than the one he met. He also advocates for giving more responsibilities to young people. This is a good step to start testing their ability and building on their experiences for future roles.