With thousands of females trafficked every year, the Nigerian federal government has increased efforts to put an end to the phenomenon by using whistle blowers and tackling the fear of black magic.

According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of female Nigerians arriving in Italy by boat surged to more than 11,000 in 2016 from 1,500 in 2014, with at least four in five forced into prostitution.

IOM data also shows that Nigerians made up the biggest share  of the 181,400 migrants who reached Italy by boat from Libya last year seeking a better life in Europe.

The trafficking and enslavement of African migrants has been thrust into the spotlight after CNN last month showed videos of Africans being sold in Libya, sparking outcry and protests around the world.

How is Nigeria tackling sex trafficking?

Nigeria's anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP is increasing its efforts to catch traffickers and prosecute them with international support.

These efforts are being backed by a 7 million pound aid package from Britain's foreign aid department which has also pledged to double its spending on global projects tackling slavery and trafficking to 150 million pounds.

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"We have embarked on more aggressive campaigns to create awareness. We are covering all the schools and rural areas because this is where they get the girls from", said Julie Okah-Donli, NAPTIP’s director.

The agency is also rewarding whistle blowers with a share of traffickers' gains which so far has succeeded in getting more than 50 people to come forward with information.

The battle against ‘Black Magic’

More than nine out of ten Nigerian women trafficked to Europe come from Edo, a predominantly Christian state of 3 million people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

Edo's governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, who came to power last year, said his office is trying to dispel the fears around black magic, known as "juju", which traps thousands of Nigerian women and girls in sex slavery in Europe.

Victims of trafficking fear that witchcraft rituals performed by spiritual priests could cause them or their relatives to fall ill or die if they disobey their traffickers, go to the police or fail to pay off their debts.

"We have gone to (the traditional priests) and asked them to reverse the juju," said NAPTIP's Okah-Donli, adding that the agency shows trafficked women photos of these priests to convince them that any curses cast upon them have been lifted.