Sr. Philomena Okwu (Nigeria) - leader of a team of religious women whose centre and shelter rehabilitate and reintegrates trafficked women into society Sr. Philomena Okwu (Nigeria) - leader of a team of religious women whose centre and shelter rehabilitate and reintegrates trafficked women into society 

Nigerian Sisters at the forefront of rehabilitating women from human traffickers.

“Society finds it difficult to understand and accept the victims of human trafficking back in the community. Victims feel isolated and withdrawn from society when they return home.”

Sr. Georginia Chidalu Ohalete PHJC - Vatican City.

Within Africa, Nigeria is the largest source of trafficked girls and women to Europe and Asia for sexual exploitation. Exact statistics are hard to come by because of the clandestine nature of the crime.

Coming back home to nothing

In recent years though, the efforts of the Nigerian Government in trying to combat human trafficking of its girls and women have drawn the attention of some UN agencies. Nigerian government agencies such as NAPTIP, NCFRM, and ETAHT have taken steps to curb the vice. Yet the problem remains enormous as it is driven by complex factors, among which are poverty and criminality.

The future is often bleak for those rescued or forced to return to Nigeria by European governments or assisted to return by NGOs. Usually, there is literally nothing to come home to. Returning to their communities, returnees face rejection from family, friends and society. They are stigmatised, have no jobs and lack access to medical care. Unsurprisingly, some end up being re-trafficked a second or even a third time.

What is COSUDOW?

Sr Philomena Okwu, is a Nigerian religious sister of the Daughters of Charity. She leads a small team of sisters from different Nigerian religious congregations under the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious (NCWR) umbrella. The association of Nigerian religious women has several projects. Among their many projects is the Committee for The Support of the Dignity of Women (COSUDOW).

The COSUDOW project offers shelter and a rehabilitation centre. It was established in 1999 by the national association of religious women to address social issues that affect women and children.

In the year 2000, the Nigerian Conference of Women Religious (NCWR) was invited to Italy by the Union of Major Superiors of Italy (USMI) so that they could see for themselves the situation of young Nigerian women on the streets of Italy. The group that visited was devastated by what they saw and, upon return, was immediately prompted to scale up the activities of COSUDOW. Apart from prevention advocacy, today, the project’s significant component also includes rehabilitation and the reintegration of women and girls who are returnees. As COUSUDOW Coordinator, Sr. Philomena Okwu works to prevent girls and women from being trafficked but also works with those who have returned.

The project is based in Nigeria’s Benin City, Edo state.

Rehabilitation, collaboration and re-integrating back into society

COSUDOW staff with electronic equipment that the centre gives to women who choose to start a hair salon.
COSUDOW staff with electronic equipment that the centre gives to women who choose to start a hair salon.

According to Sr Okwu and the team, most of the girls and women that come to the shelter and centre of COSUDOW are traumatised and battered when they arrive. She and her team set about working with every individual and making available to them services such as psychological, spiritual and even pastoral counselling. The beneficiaries are assisted in finding their place in society and rebuilding their self-esteem and confidence.

Some beneficiaries are sheltered at the centre for safety, while others come daily to access services. They are also encouraged to acquire skills so that they can lead independent, quality lives. Establishing a trade or a shop for the returned girls and women reduces their vulnerability and the danger of being re-trafficked.

Human trafficking harms the well-being of individuals.

Sr Okwu paid glowing tribute to government agencies, NGOs, and other Faith Based Organisations such as CARITAS Nigeria, who work and cooperate with the centre and shelter. She was also most appreciative of the leadership of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. The Bishops, she said, never tire of speaking out against human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. It is one of the most horrific crimes that violates the rights of individuals, dehumanises, robs the individual of their liberty and harms their well-being,” explained Sr Okwu to Vatican News.

Human trafficking, she stresses, shows up through deception, forced labour, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse. Most of the trafficked come from vulnerable backgrounds. Poverty, families in crisis, corruption, unemployment, insecurity in Nigeria, and illiteracy drive the vice. Often girls and women are head-hunted for trafficking by people they know and trust. Usually, they are lured with promises of better opportunities and non-existent lucrative jobs abroad.

“Each individual is made in the image of God and the body of Christ. Based on this, the Church should continue to protect every individual person and speak against this ailment rampaging through our society. The Church has a role to uphold and protect the human dignity and the rights of individuals,” the COSUDOW coordinator Sr. Philomena Okwu emphasised.



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30 July 2023, 12:44