Sr. Justina Nelson after a training session with staff and survivors in Lagos, Nigeria Sr. Justina Nelson after a training session with staff and survivors in Lagos, Nigeria  #SistersProject

Nigeria: Sisters of Charity serving victims of human trafficking

Combating human trafficking is a priority for the Sisters of Charity in Nigeria, who often offer safe refuge for victims. Sr. Justina Suekime Nelson tells her story of accompanying trafficking victims to freedom.

By Sr. Oluwakemi Akinleye, fsp

The Religious Sisters of Charity in Nigeria place heavy emphasis on the fight against human trafficking. Every Region and Province is required by the congregation to take an active stance on the issue of human trafficking.

Sr. Justina Suekime Nelson was appointed to take up the role of Anti-trafficking Coordinator in the Nigerian Region and in the Intra-Congregational anti-trafficking Team.

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

A photo that cried out for help

Since 2008, Sr. Justina has worked tirelessly to help rehabilitate young girls who were trafficked and to speak up for victims of abuse. She became more exposed to the evils of human trafficking in various countries as a member of an international team.

“Once, when I was in Australia for an antitrafficking program, I saw a photo of a Nigerian girl trafficked there,” she recalled. “Immediately what came to my mind was the long distance she must have travelled to reach there and the cost of making such a trip. I was challenged to do something for her and for many other trafficked girls.”

Going to court to defend abused victims

On a few occasions, Sr. Justina had to go to court to speak in defence of abused victims.

She shares two particular cases. The first was the story of a fifteen-year-old girl, Ethla (not her real name), who was hired as a house help in a family. She was an orphan and had been brought to the city by a relative. Ethla was often beaten, called abusive names and not well fed by her female employer. When Ethla could not take it anymore, she ran away from the family to the Sisters. Sr. Justina accompanied her to the police to tell her story. After verifying her story, her employer was arrested and charged in court.

“Then the lawyer called me and asked, ‘Sr. Justina, will you take the witness stand in defence of the girl if called upon to do so?’ I thought about it for a minute and asked him to give me some time for a response”, said Sr. Justina.

Namely, it is quite unusual in Nigeria to see a religious sister in court. “I spoke with my superior and after praying and reflecting about what it would mean in the life of the abused victim, I decided to do it. My Superior was very supportive.”

Sr Justina narrated the girl’s ordeal in court. In the end, the girl was liberated from the woman’s home and placed in a government shelter for some time before she was reunited with her relatives in the village.

The second episode was a very disturbing story of a father that was sexually abusing his daughters. When the girls finally took the courage to tell their school teacher, the teacher thought it best to relate their story to Sr. Justina. “My heart bled for those girls. We had to do something for them immediately!” she recalled.

Their father was arrested but he denied the charges. Sr. Justina narrates that her life was threatened several times. “The man had powerful people on his side, and they wanted us to drop the case,” she said. “I received several threats and at some point, I was afraid but I did not give up. I prayed a lot.” After many months of trial, the man was finally sentenced to life imprisonment.

Moving ahead with passion and courage

The Religious Sisters of Charity continue to carry out programs to educate people in various parts of Nigeria.

Sr. Justina Nelson is happy to seek justice and freedom for abused victims and survivors. “The passion I have for justice and hatred for oppression enkindled the fire in me to put every effort despite the risk, into enlightening people about the evil of human trafficking. I believe it is better to educate people and to enlighten them so as to prevent them from falling victims,” concluded Sr. Justina.

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11 June 2024, 10:22