Juju magic 'more controlling than chains', says Harvard expert

Lizzy Idahosa Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Lizzy Idahosa used the fear of a juju curse against the two women

Juju "magic" may seem strange, mythical and other-worldly but it is a problem that is all too real when it comes to the sex trafficking of women from Nigeria.

The form of witchcraft was thrown into the spotlight at the trial of Lizzy Idahosa who was found guilty of human trafficking offences.

Cardiff Crown Court heard how Idahosa, 24, arranged for two Nigerian women to be put through a ritualistic "juju" ceremony in Nigeria to make them afraid of disobeying her before they were trafficked into the UK and forced to work in the sex trade.

The women said they had been forced to drink dirty water, eat a snake and a snail and have their hair shaved.

The jury heard they had genuine fear the juju magic would cause them illness, madness, infertility and death if they broke their oath.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSiddharth Kara on how juju is used to control people

And that was how Idahosa was able to continue controlling the two women.

Trafficking expert Siddharth Kara from Harvard University said: "[Juju] exerts a kind of control that's so much more potent than chains or locking someone up.

"It's control of the spirit which is far more powerful and insidious."

He said juju was a "substantial issue" in parts of Nigeria and he had traced women all over Europe who had been lured into the sex industry through fear of the magic.

Persuaded into leaving their homes for a "better life", young women and girls are often put through the juju ritual overseen by priests who are highly respected and important in their villages.

Using items like menstrual blood, hair, nail clippings, body parts and blood from babies during the "very, very intense" ritual, the priest "takes control of her spirit and womb", Mr Kara said.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNick Jupp, head of criminal investigation for the Home Office in Wales said the case was significant

The women live in "fear and terror" of the priests and are convinced that if they break the pledge, a curse will descend on them, their family or future offspring.

"You can't just tell her no, no, no, the priest can't really hurt you. That's not what she believes," said Mr Kara, who teaches human trafficking and modern slavery at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in the USA.

"For a young girl who may not even have an education and is not literate, undergoing this oath and being raised in this culture [she] will really put a lot of stock in its potency."

For this reason it is extremely difficult to persuade women to break their oaths and escape from their traffickers, he added.

And this ingrained fear of the repercussions of a juju curse is why so many victims refuse to co-operate with the authorities.

It is now hoped the Cardiff case could be a catalyst to help other women trafficked from Nigeria to Europe using juju to control them.

Nick Jupp, head of criminal investigations for the Home Office in Wales, said the scale of the problem in Wales and the rest of the UK was still unknown and it was "incredibly difficult" to get sex trafficking cases to court.

The case in south Wales was unusual because the victims overcame their fear of the juju curse and helped investigators.

"We want to send out a really powerful message to everybody that this isn't a country that will tolerate modern day slavery and it is slavery - it's slavery by coercion, through fear, through intimidation and through quite horrible means," he added.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSteve Chapman, the anti-slavery coordinator for the Welsh government, said there were other cases

More on this story