Nigeria: The Sisters of Charity serving victims of human trafficking

Combating human trafficking is a priority for the Sisters of Charity of Nigeria, who often provide safe haven for victims. Sister Justina Suekime Nelson shares her story of accompanying trafficking victims to freedom.

By Sr Oluwakemi Akinleye, fsp

The Religious Sisters of Charity of Nigeria attach great importance to the fight against human trafficking. Each region and province is required by the congregation to take an active stance on the issue of human trafficking.

Sister Justina Suekime Nelson has been appointed to take on the role of Anti-Trafficking Coordinator in the Nigeria region and the Intra-Congregational Anti-Trafficking Team.

Sr. Justina entered the Congregation of the Religious of Charity in Nigeria in 1985 and made her first profession in 1988, after which she was assigned to various pastoral works. She worked in parishes, taught catechism and made home visits, which is part of their charism as Religious of Charity.

A photo that called for help

Since 2008, Sister Justina has worked tirelessly to help rehabilitate trafficked girls and to advocate for victims of abuse. She became more exposed to the harms of human trafficking in various countries as a member of an international team.

“One day, while I was in Australia for an anti-trafficking program, I saw a photo of a young Nigerian girl who was being trafficked there,” she recalls. “What immediately came to mind was the long distance she had to travel to get there and the cost of such a journey. I was challenged to do something for her and many other trafficked girls. »

Go to court to defend victims of abuse

On a few occasions, Sister Justina had to appear in court to defend victims of abuse.

She shares two particular cases. The first was the story of a fifteen-year-old girl, Ethla (pseudonym), who was hired as a housekeeper for a family. She was an orphan and had been brought to town by a relative. Ethla was often beaten, insulted and poorly fed by her employer. When Ethla couldn’t take it anymore, she ran away from the family to join the sisters. Sister Justina accompanied her to the police to tell her story. After verifying his story, his employer was arrested and charged in court.

“Then the lawyer called me and asked, ‘Sr. Justina, will you take the witness stand to defend the girl if asked? I thought about it for a minute and asked him to give me some time to respond,” Sister Justina said.

Indeed, it is quite unusual in Nigeria to see a nun in court. “I spoke with my manager and after praying and thinking about what this would mean in the abuse victim’s life, I decided to do it. My boss was very supportive.

Sister Justina recounted the girl’s ordeal in court. Eventually, the girl was released from the woman’s home and placed in a government shelter for a while before being reunited with her relatives in the village.

The second episode was a very disturbing story of a father who sexually abused his daughters. When the girls finally had the courage to tell their story to their school teacher, she thought it best to tell their story to Sister Justina. “My heart bled for these girls. Something had to be done for them immediately! she remembers.

Their father was arrested but denied the charges. Sister Justina says her life was threatened on several occasions. “This man had powerful people on his side and they wanted us to drop the case,” she said. “I received several threats and at one point I was scared but I didn’t give up. I prayed a lot. After several months of trial, the man was finally sentenced to life in prison.

Move forward with passion and courage

The Religious of Charity continue to conduct education programs in various parts of Nigeria.

Sister Justina Nelson is happy to seek justice and freedom for victims and survivors of abuse. “The passion I have for justice and the hatred of oppression have lit the fire in me to make every effort, despite the risk, to enlighten people about the evil of human trafficking. I believe it is better to educate and enlighten people to prevent them from becoming victims,” concluded Sister Justina.