Thousands of underage Nigerian girls are being sold as sex slaves as they arrive in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The IOM said on Friday that more than 5-thousand women from Nigeria have arrived in Italy by sea this year and 80 percent of them are potential victims of sex trafficking.
In August, the IOM raised the alarm about the dramatic increase in young Nigerians being trafficked to Italy, pointing out that the numbers of potential sex-trafficking victims from Nigeria to Italy has shot up by 600 percent in the past three years and the number of Nigerian women arriving shows no sign of slowing.
According to IOM spokesman Flavio di Giacomo, the girls being brought to Italy from Nigeria are getting younger and younger.
According to aid workers, almost of all the victims of sex trafficking arrive in Italy with a phone number of a Nigerian connection, who usually comes to pick them up at the migrant centres and takes them off to work on the streets.
The girls are then informed that they have to pay back a debt of anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 euros (23,800 and 60,000 US dollars) to those who helped them flee their countries before they can be free.
After that, they are forced out on the street, where they are paid 10 to 30 euros (12 to 36 US dollars) for each sexual act.
So far this year, various groups working to stop the trafficking have been able to save just over 250 young women from a life of selling their bodies on the street and put them in protection programmes.
But they say it is difficult to convince the girls not to call the numbers they have been given before fleeing conflict and poverty in their countries.
Just off the boat, that phone number is the only certainty they have in an unknown land.
Most of the girls come from Benin City in Nigeria and say they have been through a voodoo ceremony known as "juju" in Nigeria, where clippings of their hair and fingernails are taken and used in a black magic ritual to threaten them into obeying their exploiters.
Some of the girls say they are told if they do not pay back their debt something bad will happen to their family.
The girls then spend months travelling through the desert in Niger and Libya, and once in Tripoli, spend months in camps, detention centres and connection houses where they are often raped, tortured and abused before being loaded onto rubber dinghies bound for Italy.
Blessing Okoedion, a Nigerian woman who was forced into prostitution when she arrived in Italy has written a book called "The Courage of Liberty".
She also frequently speaks publicly about the problem of sex slavery and the trafficking of Nigerian women.
On Friday, Nigerian women were among the 620 migrants who were brought by an Italian Coast Guard ship to the Sicilian port of Messina.
According to the IOM, 5,204 Nigerian women arrived between January 1 and October 31 this year, representing 45 percent of the total number of women arriving in Italy by sea.