Juju's hold on trafficking victims

29 May 2014 - 12:27 By Aarti J Narsee
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Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

“The spirits, they will know and they will kill me.”

This fear of the spirits, known as “Juju”, was expressed by a 16-year-old girl who refused to tell her rescuer who had trafficked her from Nigeria to Madrid.

According to experts speaking at a conference on human trafficking in Johannesburg yesterday, Juju is commonly used by Nigerian traffickers to silence their victims and scare them into not escaping.

The conference was arranged in response to the lack of information, especially statistics, on human trafficking.

Speaking at the seminar, hosted by Unisa’s College of Law, School of Justice and Department of Police Practice yesterday, European anti-trafficking consultant Andy Desmond said that Juju was the hold many traffickers had on their victims.

According to Desmond, Juju is the belief that what happens in your life is “dictated” by spirits of both the living and the dead, and it is important to keep them happy.

Desmond, who in 2011 successfully prosecuted the first European case of an organised crime network trafficking girls to the continent from Nigeria, explained the ritual traffickers relied on to scare their victims into submission.

He said it involved a priest chanting incantations and making incisions on the victim’s body. The spirit then enters the victim, who must “swear an oath of obedience”.

The priest cuts hair from her head, underarm and pubic area, which is kept in a jar together with her underwear.

Once the oath has been made, a chicken is beheaded and the victim is forced to eat the heart, Desmond explained.

“This is real in the eyes of the traffickers and the victims,” he said.

While the incidence of relying on Juju in trafficking in South Africa is not known, Desmond did not rule it out.

“I do know that [South Africa] is flooded with Nigerian organised criminals ... . Many incidences of victims not wanting to identify traffickers might indicate Juju," he said.

Professor Beatri Kruger, from the University of Free State’s Department of Medical and Criminal Law agreed, adding that not much research had been done on Juju.

“The moment you are from a different culture, the victim is hesitant to trust you. ... Especially from the Western world, the perception is that there is no such thing, but it is a reality for [the victims]," Beatri said.

In February, the South African Police Service reported that occult-related crimes were on the increase. These include muti murders; spectral evidence, including spiritual intimidation and astral coercion; curses intended to cause harm; voodoo; animal mutilation and human sacrifice.

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