Mystery yet reality: the practice of ‘Juju’ and human trafficking

[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]

During my career as investigator with the Hawks I have stumbled across the notion of ‘Juju’ on a number of occasions whilst investigating cases of human trafficking. My limited knowledge of ‘Juju’ basically consisted of an understanding that it was a method used by Nigerian human traffickers to manipulate and instil fear into their victims. A number of factors and some gloomy memories stirred the idea for this month’s article. These include my own limited understanding of the issue, a recent presentation I attended in Canada on ‘Juju’ and a personal conviction that counter-trafficking practitioners must be aware of possible issues which may compound successful prosecutions in cases of human trafficking. Furthermore, as Christians we need to be reminded that “our battle is not against flesh and blood” but, amongst others, against the “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12).

Marinda*, a trafficking victim, was an educated adult female who came from a middle-class family. After Marinda’s* rescue I obtained her statement in which she recounted a “supernatural” and “evil” experience involving one of her Nigerian captors. Despite being safe and receiving the necessary psychosocial support, Marinda* was overcome by fear and withdrew the criminal case against her captor on two occasions. I vividly remember receiving numerous ‘courtesy’ calls from Miranda* subsequent to her withdrawal of the criminal charges. Not willing to reveal her whereabouts, Marinda* apologised for her lack of courage whilst reiterating her inability to escape from her captor despite being free to do so at will. She passed away three years later in 2012 whilst in an exploitative relationship and disconnected from her family. Always shrouded in secrecy, others who have spoken to me about this practice mostly included police informers or acquaintances of victims who could only offer hearsay evidence of the nature and existence of ‘Juju’. The terror with which they communicated this information was ever present despite their lack of first-hand experience regarding the practice. By virtue of sharing this hearsay information, some even believed they were exposing themselves to the wrath of “evil spirits” and “spells”.

What is Juju?
Desmond (2013) and Anti-trafficking Consultants (ATC) highlights that ‘Juju’ is a European term adopted to describe the collective traditional ancestral religious beliefs of the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria. ‘Juju’ is the traditional belief in the spirit world and how the gods affect the activities of everyday life. ‘Juju’ or ‘Ju-Ju’ is a word of French origin from the word ‘JOUJOU’, meaning toy or plaything. It refers to the small objects that many individuals wear or keep in their possession. These items are believed to contain energy that brings luck and protection. It is common to find such fetishes under a person’s pillow to protect them while they sleep. The early Europeans mistakenly mistook these objects to be the focus of worship — hence the name ‘Juju’. The human traffickers of Edo and Delta States of Nigeria have hijacked the cultural beliefs in ‘Juju’ to blackmail their victims. The practice is perpetuated by greed and those involved include traditional priests who carry out the ‘Juju’ ceremonies. Once a potential victim has gone through the ceremony and sworn an oath of obedience, they are captured and snarled in a trap without the need for physical restraints. The bondage is in the overpowering spiritual beliefs with no need to have the victim locked up or kept under surveillance. This is taken care of by the ‘spirits’. Victims are subsequently compelled to comply with instructions and, to do otherwise, would risk death (Desmond, 2013; Anti-trafficking Consultants (ATC)). Mojeed (2008) also highlights how a repented former trafficker refers to the practice of ‘Juju’. When traffickers are arrested in Nigeria, victims have often failed to show up in court to testify against them for fear that they would die if they violate the oaths they took. In administering the oaths, the source said traffickers usually collect the finger nails, menstrual blood and pubic hairs of the girls in preparing concoctions (Mojeed, 2008).

UNISA Project Tshireletso seminar, May 28, 2014, Brooklyn, Pretoria
In response to the current knowledge vacuum amongst multidisciplinary practitioners regarding the use of ‘Juju’ by Nigerian human traffickers, the University of South Africa’s Project Tshireletso will host a seminar where this issue will be unpacked by Mr Andy Desmond (UK). Andy is an internationally recognised practitioner in the field of investigating West African organised human trafficking, particularly Nigerian trafficking for sexual exploitation where the victims have been subjected to witchcraft or ‘Juju’ spiritual oaths. Mr Andy Desmond will be a keynote speaker at this seminar which will take place on May 28, 2014 at the College of Law campus in Brooklyn, Pretoria. Andy’s experience and knowledge comes from over 30 years as a police officer, and detective with New Scotland Yard. This includes the investigation of Organised Criminal Networks (OCNs) responsible for human trafficking into the United Kingdom from Albania, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Nigeria. Andy arrested and successfully prosecuted Anthony Harrison at Woolwich Crown Court in July 2011, leading to a sentence of 20 years. The case was the first prosecution in Europe of trafficking children out of the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation, and the first prosecution of a Nigerian OCN that had used ‘Juju’ to silence their victims.

Registration to this seminar is free and a formal invitation will be circulated on May 7, 2014. Those interested in attending are kindly requested to submit their names to Ms Huma Kganyha at


Anti-Trafficking Consultants. Juju beliefs. From

Desmond, A. 2013. Nigerian Organized Trafficking: Their Use of Witchcraft and Juju to Control Victims. Presentation during the ‘Together Let’s Stop Traffick’ conference, 14-17 November 2013, Ottawa, Canada.

Mojeed, M. 2008. Nigeria-Voodoo aids human trafficking. From:



  1. Wow, what an eye opener. All Christians need to read such articles sothat we can pray accordingly. God richly bless you !!!!

  2. Interesting and really scary.

  3. Thanks Marcel for you efforts. The Bible teaches us that we as Christians do not stand ignorant as to the wile plans of the evil one; hence God is using you to bring this information to the Body of Christ. I will pray for you .

  4. Thank you Marcel, Your insight,experience and reporting on the evil psychological manipulation of victims basic fears through taking a Juju oath has certainly opened my eyes Thank You

  5. Well done Marcel on an excellent article.
    I am looking forward to coming to South Africa and to share my knowledge and experience with you all.

  6. Louise Hockenson

    Thank you for sharing your insight with us. It is frightening. I read articles about trafficking and wonder actually how many and what are the true numbers of people trafficked? How sad. Thank you for your work.