Their plight has been highlighted by Paris-based photographer Elena Perlino, originally from Italy, who began to notice the presence of young African women working on the streets during her commutes from Turin.
She said: ‘I decided to start from this surreal vision to tell a story. I have been working on the topic for several years, focusing mainly on the Italian connection.’
Perlino reveals that many Nigerian women come to Italy hoping to make enough money from honest work as nannies or factory workers to support their families back home, but are tricked by traffickers into working in the sex trade.
Arrests, violence and abuse often follow.
Traffickers demand on average more than 50,000 euros (US $60,000) for travel expenses and accommodation, with the women having to work as prostitutes until their debts are paid off.
Eighty per cent of women trafficked to Italy come from Benin City, Edo State, in south Nigeria.
The photographer explained: ‘My work attempts to show a complex phenomenon that crosses Italy from North to South.
‘This involves many cities including Turin, Milan, Genoa, Rome, Naples and Palermo and thousands of Nigerian and Italian people.’
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime declared Nigeria among the top eight countries with the highest human trafficking rates in the world.