CHILDREN: IRIN Focus on child trafficking in west and central Africa

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Subject: CHILDREN: IRIN Focus on child trafficking in west and central Africa
From: Kinsey Dinan (
Date: Thu Mar 02 2000 - 07:58:14 EST

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United

CHILDREN: IRIN Focus on child trafficking in west and central Africa

LIBREVILLE, 28 February 2000 (IRIN) - From 14-year-old girls forced into

prostitution to domestics just out of their infancy and pre-teen boys
leased to cattlemen, west and central African children are being
to deprivation and servitude, researchers and officials told IRIN.

No-one knows exactly how many young lives are broken in this way. In
finding out and keeping data bases on the twin evils of child
and the exploitation of children's labour are part of a common platform
for action agreed at a regional consultation held on 22-24 February.

In most of the region, girls, some of them as young as eight years old,
are taken from from rural areas to towns to work as domestics. Many work

for 12 hours each day and more, and are subjected to physical, mental
sexual abuse. Those taken from their countries also face isolation, some

studies noted.

Children from Mali are taken to Cote d'Ivoire via Burkina Faso, which is

both a supplier of and transit point for child workers. So are Benin,
Ghana, Nigeria and Togo, some of which are also recipient countries.

Children are taken to Equatorial Guinea and to and from Cameroon.
researchers suspect that there might be children going to work as
domestics in Banjul from the southern Senegalese region of Casamance
a guerrilla war has been going on for 17 years.

Kounboua Boulo Edoux of the Ministry of Labour in Chad told IRIN that
nomadic cattlemen from northern Cameroon and central Chad travel to
Chari region in southern Chad in the dry season, contract boys from
farming communities to tend their herds, and take them as far as Central

African Republic (CAR).

The 'Subregional Consultation on Developing Strategies on the
of Children for Exploitative Labour Purposes in West and Central Africa'

was held in Libreville, capital of Gabon, one of the countries to which
people illegally ship children, some of whom die along the way. In one
such case some two years ago, Nigerian researcher Professor Peter Obigbo

told IRIN, about 30 children drowned when a boat capsized while taking
them from southern Nigeria to Gabon.

Child trafficking occurs both within and between countries as studies
presented at the consultation - organised by the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed.

While doing sensitisation work in southern Chad on the worst forms of
labour - the subject of a mid-1999 ILO convention that the Libreville
meeting urged African governments to ratify - he met a small group of
herdboys who had run away from their masters in the CAR. They were
haggard, hungry and covered with wounds sustained while trekking through

the bush back to the Chad border, according to Edoux. Their ages?
thirteen," he said.

The herdsmen approach parents either directly or through middle men, or
area residents who earn 3,000 CFA francs (less than US $5) per boy,
according to Edoux. The child is supposed to work for six months after
which he receives a calf as payment and is taken back to his parents, an

arrangement which some masters honour. Others, however, find pretexts to

end it prematurely, which means that the child is not paid, while some
take the children with them when they go back to their home areas at the

end of the dry season. According to Edoux, soldiers from Moyen Chari
stationed in central Chad sometimes rescue children left stranded after
being abandoned by or running away from their bosses.

Boys are also contracted out to cattle rearers in Ghana, receiving a cow

at the end of four years' service, according to Emelia Oguaah, executive

director of the African Centre for Human Development and one of a team
consultants who presented at the consultation preliminary findings from
research they did for a subregional project of the ILO's International
Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC). Other boys work

as assistant fishermen and, according to information she obtained while
doing her survey in areas along the Volta Lake in eastern Ghana, these
children fall into two categories.

"Most are brought by their parents as apprentices in fishing or to work
and assist the fishermen," Oguaah told IRIN. "Their parents collect
and visit their children regularly. But there is another group of
who, people in the area suspect, were stolen and sold to the fishermen."

Area residents told her nobody visited these children "who become more
less slaves and are maltreated in various ways."

Other Ghanaian children, girls, are taken to Cote d'Ivoire to work as
maids, helpers in small restaurants or prostitutes, mainly by
Ghanaian women living in Cote d'Ivoire, according to Oguaah. Their
unsuspecting parents generally have no idea of the conditions under
they work, she said, adding that the families of those forced into
prostitution are made to believe their children would be given work.

Overworked and illtreated, some run away and find their way to the
Ghanaian border. "Those who come back are mostly those taken for
prostitution and they are usually between 10 and 14," Oguaah told IRIN.
Public transport operators, she said, told her they often arranged
transportation for the returnees, but some refused to go back home
of conditions there and ended up living on the streets of Takoradi, a
major town in the west of the country.

Why do parents send their children to town or abroad to work? The
are legion, but poverty is one most often cited, according to Oguaah,
Ebigbo - who was also a member of the team of ILO-IPEC consultants - and

other participants in the Libreville encounter.

Other contributory factors include lack of awareness of the risks
involved, insufficient training and educational opportunities and a high

demand for cheap, submissive child labour, the inexistence or inadequacy

of national laws on child trafficking, weak institutional mechanisms and

inadequate border controls, according to the platform for action that
participants in the consultation have undertaken to implement.

The platform includes strengthening sensitisation campaigns - which some

countries have already started - targeting not only adult groups such as

the media, women's associations and other NGOs that defend the rights of

the child, but also children, through children's parliaments and other
forms of organisation involving them.

The platform also provides for reviewing penal codes to include
child-trafficking offences which, it says, should be defined, and
and severe penaties set. It includes drawing up an international
convention on child trafficking, stiffer regulations on the movement of
children out of countries, training people who would implement new laws,

and strengthening the capacity of monitoring structures and intervention

units in terms of personnel and equipment.

Another key area on which the consultation focused was the effect of
trafficking and exploitative labour on the children. A UNICEF survey on
Nigeria presented at the meeting noted that these practices result in
interruption of children's education, traumatises them and impairs their

development. In the long term, children thus abused face a future of
poverty and destitution and are sometimes caught up in a cycle of
violence, insecurity and lawlessness, and HIV/Aids, according to the

A similar presentation on Burkina Faso noted that the traffic, "which is
brutal separation of the child from his or her family with all the
emotional traumas this can cause ... develops negative sentiments and
violent reactions in this fragile being, and makes him/her accustomed to

violence" and certain types of anti-social behaviour.

Improving care for the victims is therefore part of the platform. The
government ministers, other state officials and non-governmental
representatives who participated in the Libreville encounter agreed on a

series of actions such as setting up or strengthening halfway houses and

transit centres for children subjected to trafficking.

They also expressed a commitment to "put in place human resources
necessary for the medical and psycho-social support of children, and any

other form of support, while waiting to reunite them with their
and, after reunification, to empower parents to care for them.

Empowering and strengthening the capacities of NGOs and providing
protection for the victims of child trafficking, are also among the
provisions of the platform, which provides further for improved
and monitoring of trafficking.

To guarantee implementation of the platform, the ministers undertook to
report on its results as soon as they returned home, and delegates
among other things, to set up a standing sub-regional monitoring
comprising representatives of governments, labour, employers and civil
society, with the participation of ILO and UNICEF.


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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Keyword: women

Kinsey Alden Dinan
Women's Rights Division/Asia Division
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299
Tel: (212) 216-1858
Fax: (212) 736-1300

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