TIME Soccer

Nowhere to Go: Chronicling Soccer’s Human Trafficking Problem

Photographer Jason Andrew's "Black Diamonds" reveals the sordid underbelly of the world's most popular sport in Turkey and West Africa

Every four years, the World Cup draws unparalleled attention to soccer and its stars — the “beautiful game” played on its grandest stage for all to see. Far less attention is minded to those whose passion for the game has led to their exploitation.

In his series of photographs “Black Diamonds,” Jason Andrew chronicles the human trafficking of African soccer players from Nigeria to Istanbul by an assortment of scouts and unlicensed agents. These young athletes, largely under-informed and uneducated, are promised the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming soccer stars — if their impoverished families are willing to pay fees that can exceed $5,000 to send them to Turkey. But instead of using their time in Turkey to kickstart successful soccer careers in top-tier European leagues, the players are typically abandoned shortly after their arrival and forced to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Since 2011, Andrew has followed the journeys of these young men, many of whom end up destitute and desperate for whatever work they are able to find. Some have returned home to West Africa, more have remained in Turkey, sharing apartments and jobs with others lured north under false pretenses, but very few have found even a fraction of the glory and riches once promised.

The problem is a growing one. Jean Claude Mbvoumin of the Foot Solidaire group, a charity whose goal is to protect young African soccer players, estimated that as many as 15,000 soccer-playing African youths were emigrating under what can only be described as the falsest of pretenses, and that number shows no sign of shrinking. Nearly every day more of these young players arrive in Turkey, just as their predecessors’ visas expire.

“Black Diamonds” highlights a few of these exploited players, tracking their attempts to fulfill the dreams that had once been promised them — the same dreams that others have been living at this summer’s World Cup. For these exploited soccer players, however, the path forward is far less certain.

All photographs by Jason Andrew.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Is Becoming a Global Hub For Internet Scams Preying on the Lovelorn

IAC Will Turn Match Dating Service Into a Separate Business
The Match.com website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of Malaysia's newfound criminal appeal.

Lax student visa regulations and a high-tech banking system has made Malaysia a global hub for Internet scams, according to U.S. officials, with money being swindled out of unwitting Americans and Europeans by racketeers prowling online dating sites.

The conmen typically hail from Nigeria or Ghana and dupe lonely, middle-aged men and women from the U.S. and Western Europe through matchmaking services like Match.com, reports Reuters. A dozen new cases are reported to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur every week, with scam complaints forming four-fifths of new work for duty officers.

“This is a serious issue hurting many Americans financially and emotionally,” said a U.S. embassy spokesperson. “We would hope that through publicity more Americans would be made aware of these scams.”

While most Internet users have received — only to swiftly mock and discard — some crude Nigerian scam emails, these tricksters are more sophisticated, and slowly build trust as a budding romance ripens. Then the request for money comes, normally a relatively small amount at first; but once the hooks are in, the victim struggles to turn down subsequent heftier demands without admitting to having been hoodwinked.

“Some victims find it very hard to break away from the relationship, even when they’ve been told it’s not real,” says Professor Monica Whitty, an expert on Internet fraud psychology. “So the criminal admits to scamming the victim but says that they also fell in love with them at the same time, and they get back into the same scam.”

But it is not just lovelorn Americans who are being swindled; other foreign embassies in Kuala Lumpur are dealing with similar complaints, reports Reuters. Whitty says that at least 500,000 U.K. citizens have fallen prey to such “sweetheart scams” since the phenomenon was first reported around 2007.

Slightly more men than women are duped by fraudulent lovers, but men are less likely to seek recompense out of embarrassment.

“Some people mortgage their houses to pay these criminals,” Whitty says, “but often the devastation they feel is more about the loss of the relationship than the money — of realizing they’ve been duped.”

And worryingly, such scams appear to be growing more common; last year, U.S.-based IT security developer SOPHOS ranked Malaysia as sixth globally in terms of cyber crime threat risks, as the total cyber crime bill topped $300 million. The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of the nation’s criminal appeal.

“Scammers are increasingly using targeted social engineering attacks against their victims due to the extremely high success rate,” Ty Miller, an Australian security expert and founder of Threat Intelligence, tells TIME. “This not only affects individuals, but also organizations.”

Awareness and technology are key to tackling this scourge, says Miller, who is running a fraud-prevention course in Kuala Lumpur in October. “Techniques can be deployed that allow malicious individuals to be tracked,” he says, “which as time goes on will build intelligence to unveil the identity of the perpetrators.”

Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, says all involved nations must share information and jointly investigate cases according to agreed procedures and technical processes.

“Various authorities from the various countries involved should work together rather than blaming each other,” he said by email. “These countries need to synergize their efforts, in order to effectively address this scam problem.”

TIME Africa

Report: More Than 60 Nigerian Girls Escape Boko Haram Captors

NIGERIA-UNREST-BLAST
People gather near burned vehicles by the crowded Monday Market in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on July 1, 2014 AFP—Getty Images

The daring escape comes after days of heavy fighting in northeast Nigeria

More than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month by suspected Islamist militant group Boko Haram have reportedly fled their captors.

Their escape was confirmed to news agency AFP by a high-level though unnamed security source in the restive Borno state.

A local vigilante, Abbas Gava, also said he had “received an alert from my colleagues … that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home.”

More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north.

The development follows Friday’s clashes between Nigerian soldiers and Boko Haram militants in Borno. At least 50 insurgents were killed as the Nigerian military repelled an attack on its military base in the town of Damboa, said the Defense Ministry on Saturday.

Six Nigerian soldiers, including the commanding officer, died during the fighting, said Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade.

An officer who requested anonymity told the AP that the raid appeared to be a reprisal attack by Boko Haram after the Nigerian military carried out devastating air strikes 24 hours earlier.

[AFP]

 

TIME World Cup

The 16 Best Photos From the World Cup’s Round of 16

The celebrations, the heartaches, and the sometimes gravity-defying saves and goals that made this leg of the tournament all pins-and-needles

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Pop Star Offers Her Virginity to Boko Haram for Kidnapped Girls

In a recent interview, the singer offered herself to free the girls, because she is more "experienced"

A Nigerian pop singer told the country’s Vanguard newspaper that she would offer up her virginity to the Islamist group Boko Haram in exchange for the safe return of about 300 girls who were kidnapped about two months ago in the Nigerian town of Chibok.

“I wish I could offer myself in exchange,” said up-and-coming pop singer Adokiye Kyrian.

“They are between 12 and 15 year old girls for Christ sake. I am older and more experienced. Even if 10 to 12 men have to take me every night, I don’t care. Just release these girls and let them go back to their parents,” the singer reportedly said.

After news broke of the girls’ disappearance, an international social media campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread globally, in an attempt to bring attention to the young women’s mass kidnapping.

TIME faith

Wasila Umaru and the Plight of Nigeria’s Child Brides

A young girl is being detained for allegedly killing her husband

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The plight of Nigerian girls recently caught the attention of the world after the kidnapping of several hundred schoolgirls in Chibok over a month ago. Another story did not garner as much attention from either local or international media: that of Wasila Umaru. Apparently forced to marry a man in his thirties, Umaru Sani, and endure the reality of being a child bride, 14-year-old Wasila Umaru reportedly took matters in her own hands 17 days after the wedding ceremony. In April, Wasila was detained by the police in Kano, accused of killing her “husband” and three of his friends by allegedly putting rat poison in food served to him. In a culture where food is often shared, Wasila’s so-called husband shared this poisoned food with his friends, leading to the death of three people; ten others were rushed to the hospital. Upon detention by the police, Umaru confessed to the crime, saying that she killed Umaru Sani because she was forced to marry him. According to her father, she is quoted to have said that she killed her husband because she did not love him, while maintaining that she did not mean to kill his friends.

Child marriages are a huge problem in West Africa, where apparently 49 percent of girls younger than 19 years old are married. In Nigeria, it is believed that child marriages are more prevalent in Northern Nigeria and according to the UNICEF Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Nigeria, the average age of marriage in North-Western Nigeria (where Kano state is situated) is at 14.6 years old, placing Wasila near the average.

Initial local news reports stated that Wasila marriage was a forced one, but her in-laws insist on the contrary. In an interview with the Nigerian Vanguard, the father of Umaru Sani claims that Wasila was “courted” by his son for twelve months, and that his son “spent a fortune” on her. According to him, the marriage was not a forced one, and reports to the contrary are misinformed. Putting aside the power dynamic of a 35-year-old man thinking he can court a 14-year-old girl, it gets worse as the general feeling in the impoverished community was one of anger towards Wasila and her family, leading to tensions within the community and between Wasila’s family and the families of her victims.

It did not take long for the Nigerian media to dub Wasila “the killer child bride” in sensational reports. Not surprisingly, this news made it to the Islamophobic parts of the internet, where it has been used as proof of how Islam enables child marriage and puts young girls in situations where they feel the only option is murder. Yet it is widely argued that one of the most important driving forces behind the practice is economic rather than religious. From my own second-hand experiences, I am inclined to agree. A few years ago, a family member agreed to take part in an initiative at our local mosque that involved financially sponsoring girls through school; however, after about a year, two of the girls she was sponsoring were taken out of school by their mother. One was 11 years old, and the other was about 9. Their mother had married them off, saying that this marriage was better for them than spending time in school. For families living in poverty, giving away a girl child to marriage is one less mouth to feed and offers the possibility of gaining money from richer in-laws.

Although a lot of the focus on Wasila was sensational, her case generated a bit of discussion on her rights within the law. Apparently there is a possibility that Wasila could be charged as an adult following the Sharia law adopted by Kano, which sets the age of criminal responsibility as the age of puberty. Nigeria as a whole adopts civil, customary (or traditional) and Sharia courts; adding to this, there is not a lot of alignment between laws on a federal and state level. As such, even though the country passed the Child Rights Act in 2003, which raises the minimum age of marriage to 18 and makes provisions regarding juveniles in conflict with the law, Kano state has yet to pass this law. This despite the Child Rights Act being supported by the Sharia Penal Code.

As can be expected when news of child marriage breaks in the mainstream Nigerian media, there has been some discussion on the dangers of child marriage, as well as a brief mention of the “Wasila Umaru option” in which other children in marriages could consider murder as a means to be rid of a relationship they do not want. The fact that a young teenager saw no way out of a marriage that she did not want outside of murder has the potential to launch a nationwide debate on the state of child brides in Nigeria that would lead to actual policy changes. However, Wasila’s case very much remains contained within Kano. Efforts at raising awareness for her with a #SaveWasila hashtag have not been successful; a quick search of the hashtag on twitter shows up only one tweet.

It will take a huge amount of work to stop child marriage in Nigeria. Poverty will have to be tackled head on, and parents and communities will have to involved in the fight against child marriage. Currently, Wasila is being supported by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Nigeria, which has taken charge of her upkeep and defense. Wasila, having been charged with culpable homicide and waiting to appear in court through April and May, will be facing a trial judge June 16. Hoping that she gets justice and is freed may seem callous due to the severity of the charge; however, I pray that there will be consideration of her age and circumstances.

Anike is a Nigerian writer and blogger currently residing in London. Read more from Patheos.com:

TIME Economy

Sub-Saharan Africa Is the New Investment Frontier

The Victoria Island waterfront is seen from the Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos
Nigeria has attracted much attention from American and European multinationals, according to a new survey. Here is the Victoria Island waterfront in Lagos from June 3, 2014 Joe Penney—Reuters

Nigeria leads frontier markets in attracting attention from American and European companies, according to the latest Frontier Markets Sentiment Index

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is the frontier market that attracts the most attention from American and European multinationals, according to an index commissioned by the Wall Street Journal.

Argentina, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia followed respectively.

But it was the sub-Saharan Africa countries that dominated the table, making up nine of the top 20 economies. Asia had three countries in the top tier.

The data found that one country in particular has seen multinationals’ interest wane dramatically. From 2013 to June 2014, corporate sentiment toward Ukraine dropped 12.5 points following a long period of violent protests and political instability.

The Frontier Markets Sentiment Index, developed by Frontier Strategy Group, based in Washington, D.C., provides insight into 200 multinationals’ sentiments toward markets regarded as the riskiest to invest in.

Matt Lasov, global head of advisory and analytics at Frontier Strategy Group, told the Wall Street Journal: “We collect data about which countries the companies are watching for potential future investment. Over time, that gives us a clear picture of their market priorities — which countries are they including in their future plans and which they are dropping.”

[WSJ]

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected of Kidnapping Another 20 Women

The extremist group reportedly abducted women from a nomadic settlement near Chibok, Nigeria, last week

Members of the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram are suspected to have kidnapped 20 women near the Nigerian town where nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted in April.

The Associated Press reports a vigilante-group member said armed men abducted the women by gunpoint on Thursday, also kidnapping three men who made an effort to thwart the attack. The women reportedly lived in a nomadic settlement near the Nigerian town of Chibok.

The extremist group has remained in international headlines since the April abduction of around 275 girls, many of whom remain missing, inspired a global movement to return them entitled #BringbBackOurGirls.

Last week, Boko Haram militants reportedly also killed hundreds in attacks in northeastern Nigeria.

[AP]

TIME Nigeria

‘Bring Back Our Girls’ Protests Banned in Nigerian Capital

NIGERIA-UNREST-POLITICS-KIDNAPPING-ANNIVERSARY
A woman with a sticker on her head bearing the slogan "Bring back our girls" marches for the release of the more than 200 abducted Chibok school girls in Lagos, Nigeria on May 29, 2014. Pius Utomi Ekpei—AFP/Getty Images

Nigerian officials have banned demonstrations around the more than 250 kidnapped schoolgirls, which gained momentum internationally through the use of the #BringBackOurGirls, saying the protests pose a security threat to citizens

Nigerian officials have banned demonstrations about the more than 250 kidnapped schoolgirls, outcry which gained momentum internationally through the use of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Abuja Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu said the ongoing protests pose a security threat to citizens in the capital city, CNN reports.

Terror group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility in the abduction of around 276 girls from a Chibok boarding school in April. Though some were able to escape, the search for the remaining girls—and the Nigerian government’s lagging response—has sparked both global outcry.

“Information reaching us is that too soon dangerous elements will join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosive(s) aimed at embarrassing the government. Accordingly protests on the Chibok Girls is hereby banned with immediate effect,” the commissioner said, CNN reports.

“As the FCT police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness,” Mbu reportedly said at a Monday news conference.

[CNN]

TIME Africa

Nigeria Bomb Blast Kills at Least 14

The strike targeted a TV-viewing center for soccer matches, and Boko Haram is the prime suspect. Over 500 civilians have died in attacks since the Islamic militant group kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls on April 14

A bomb blast in northeastern Nigeria on Sunday killed at least 14 and wounded 12.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which hit a television-viewing center for soccer matches, but the Islamic militant group Boko Haram is a prime suspect, Reuters reports.

The outfit, fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria’s north, caused global outrage when it kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls on April 14. Since then, a string of strikes have killed at least 500 civilians.

Last weekend saw a botched attempt by a suicide bomber to strike an open-air viewing of a soccer match in the central city of Jos, which was ravaged by a twin bomb explosion days before, killing 118.

Neighboring country Cameroon claimed on Sunday to have killed some 40 Boko Haram militants in clashes in the country’s far north.

[Reuters]

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