COTONOU, November 14, 2009 – Following collaboration between the authorities of Benin and Gabon, and with the technical and financial support of UNICEF, 26 children, of which 7 boys and 19 girls have been repatriated from Gabon to Benin their home country.
These children were intercepted by Gabonese security forces aboard the VM Sharon, a vessel that was transporting 288 passengers. Many of them were illegal immigrants, including children, aged 11 to 18. The children were handed over to the Red Cross and UNICEF in Libreville and placed in care centers to benefit from medical checkup and appropriate care.
Most of the immigrants on board the VM Sharon had no ID. They paid around 500 Euros each for the trip. They reportedly originated from Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. An investigation is still ongoing in Cotonou with regard to the vessel and crew.
A team made up of officials from the Ministry of Family and National Solidarity, the Head of the Minors Protection Unit and International Organizations, including ILO and UNICEF, greeted the children upon their arrival into Cotonou International Airport. “It is very important for us to bring the children back home and in a safe environment” said the Director of Childhood and Adolescent from the Ministry of Family Affairs and National Solidarity. The children appeared to be tired, but happy to be back home. “The trip to Gabon was a very wearisome experience” reported, Augustin, a young boy, age 17, from Porto Novo. As many of the children, he said that he was going to Libreville to join a family member”.
On behalf of the Benin Government, the Ministry of Family and National Solidarity made a commitment to insure adequate follow up of the children, and to take action towards their sustainable reinsertion. Two NGOs supported by UNICEF accepted to host the rescued children: Terre des Hommes offered to take care of the boys while the Salesian Sisters indicated that they will shelter the girls. The Minors Protection Unit freighted a bus for the children’s transportation from the airport to the care centers.
Early on, the Minister of Family and National Solidarity of Benin, Mamatou Bio Djossou expressed her willingness to handle the return of these children in a decent manner, “to the best interest of the children”.
A 2007 national study conducted with UNICEF support shows that more than 40,000 children aged 6 to 7 are victims of child trafficking, out of which girls account for 86 per cent. The children are employed for farm work, sex trade, sweatshops or serve as domestics. Organized traffickers and networks profit from their exploitation.
UNICEF is committed to fighting against child trafficking through tracing families, developing treaties, setting up local committees at community level, supporting information, education as well as reinsertion programmes. UNICEF has also conducted a strong advocacy and is partnering with the government to outlaw child trafficking within and across Benin’s borders.