Academic journal article Hemispheres

Human Trafficking and International Migration: Empirical Evidence from the Nigerian "Harlots' Society" in Colonial Ghana

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Human Trafficking and International Migration: Empirical Evidence from the Nigerian "Harlots' Society" in Colonial Ghana

Article excerpt


The economic crises triggered by the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s were partly responsible for the mass emigration of Nigerians to the Gold Coast and other locations in Africa. The Gold Coast was important for its agricultural, mining and extractive industries and offered some socio-economic pull factors to migrant workers across West Africa during the colonial period. In the first instance, the presence of these migrant workers encouraged and attracted sex workers, some of whom provided auxiliary services such as temporary accommodation, avenues for pleasure, including the sex industry and catering, which migrant workers needed to facilitate their integration into their new environment. Their case was peculiar because many of them migrated without their wives, while others were simply unmarried. Accordingly, the Nigerian sex industry in the Gold Coast grew out of the necessity to meet these variegated needs and demands.

To address the salient issues in this study, the work examines the growth of the Nigerian commercial sex industry on the Gold Coast, the beginning of the mass departure of Nigerians to the area, how the migration of some Nigerians was linked with an organized human trafficking network, and the impact of the Nigerian organized sex industry. Finally, the article highlights the responses of both the Nigerian and Gold Coast authorities to combat human trafficking and the commercial sex trade.

A review of relevant literature

The issues of illicit migration, human trafficking and commercial sex activities within the West African sub-region have received avid coverage from intellectuals and scholars of migration studies. While cautious scholars have pointed out the changing nature of migration in West Africa, others have looked at the issue from the perspective of the socio-economic implications of migration in the sub-region.1 For instance, Emmanuel Akyeampong perceives the commercial sex industry as "the commoditization of casual sex" motivated by acquisition and related socio-cultural considerations.2

Outside of West Africa, the commercial sex industry has received considerable attention in the literature of social history. V Bullough and B. Bullough in their studies of commercial sex activities have highlighted the origins of and stimuli for commercial sex activities in some major societies and civilisations.3 Investigating the causes of the phenomenon, Sukanya Harintrakal believes that an imbalance in male-female relations, whereby women are "socialized into serving" the interest of men, is a major cause of women's involvement in the commercial sex industry.4 As plausible as this conclusion may be, the factors of poverty, self-indulgence and acquisition in addition to peer group pressure cannot be completely ruled out.

On their part, feminists believe that the commercial sex industry is "morally undesirable" no matter what economic advantages may be accrued from it, because it is one of the most graphic examples of male domination over women.5 However, this position by the feminists must be considered along with the context of gender structures, international market mechanisms, and a global class system in which women have found themselves.6 Finally, the data on illicit migration, human trafficking and commercial sex activities indicate that socioeconomic and political push and pull factors are important in any discussion of the connection between and among the three human elements.

The emigration of Nigerians to the Gold Coast: push and pull factors

The migration of Nigerians to the Gold Coast was part of the general migration of labour across the West African sub-region during the precolonial and colonial eras. The trend was due to socio-economic and historical exigencies.7 Nkamleu's study of the trend demonstrates that pre-colonial Africa was a "mobile continent" where migrations were oriented towards trade, labour and religion (in the form of pilgrimages), without many legal restraints and barriers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.