JOS, Nigeria—Zoputa was just 14 when she was sold into prostitution and brought to Italy.
“I did not know why I was going to Italy, my mother just told me I would have a better life abroad. Instead, I had two years of hell,” says Zoputa, now 16.
After two years of servitude, Zoputa managed to escape from the compound where she was being held. She found her way to a nearby police station, which connected her to a welfare officer from Nigeria who was living in Italy at the time.
“Mrs. Precious, as I came to know her, turned out to be my savior,” Zoputa said, referring to her welfare officer. “She took me to her home and placed me under therapy before bringing me back to Nigeria.”
The welfare officer, Mrs. Precious, connected Zoputa to SOS Children’s Villages in Nigeria. She was then welcomed into a new, loving SOS Family at one of the SOS Villages in Nigeria.
Zoputa, left, with her SOS Mother and SOS Sister inside their family home at the SOS Village in Jos, Nigeria.
There are no official statistics about the number of children who are sold into domestic servitude from Nigeria, both in the country and outside. However, the practice is common. Italy, in particular, has become a destination for many Nigerian women, many of whom are promised a free life of opportunity only to be snared into a prostitution ring.
“Trafficking children and women to work as domestic workers, prostitutes and other forms of exploitative labour is common in Nigeria,” said the director of the SOS Village where Zoputa lives. “The victims are lured with the promise of a better life and well-paying jobs, only to discover when it is too late that they have been deceived.
The transition from Italy back to Nigeria was a challenge for Zoputa.
“I was lonely and very cold at the time I came to my SOS Family,” Zoputa said. “After my ordeal, I was scared of seeing new faces.”
Fortunately for Zoputa, her new mother, SOS Mother Funke, has years of experience integrating traumatized girls into her SOS Family.
‘‘Zoputa was a frightened child after being trafficked,” Funke said. “I had to constantly reassure that she was now in a loving home, and no one would hurt her anymore. Through counselling and encouragement, Zoputa is learning to put this painful memory behind her. She wants to have a healthy life, a happy life.”
Funke’s patience and love paid off, with Zoputa adjusting well to her new family. She’s also become friends with many boys and girls at the SOS Village, including those growing up in different SOS Families.
“My SOS Mother has been supportive. She is a nice person. I appreciate her,” Zoputa said. “Most importantly, I am thankful that my family sent me to school immediately I came back from Italy. I never thought I would ever go to school again.”
Since moving to the SOS Village, Zoputa has learned how to sew clothes and make beads using local textile materials. She sells them and makes some money from it. She completed secondary school, and has a strong desire to further her education.
“I will be heading to university soon. I am very proud of my education and achievements,” says Zoputa. “I have gone through hardships in my life, but I am confident that I will have a happy ending. I would like to be an actress, a knowledgeable one. So I make time to read books to boost my abilities, to enhance my chances of becoming a successful actress in future.”
There are about 340 orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children growing up in SOS Families across four SOS Villages in Nigeria. Thanks to our SOS Supporters, these children can now grow up in loving, stable families.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the child.