|© UNICEF Niger/2009/Bisin|
|At the bus station in Agadez, Niger, the head of the UNICEF-supported Action Against the Use of Child Workers centre, Moutari Mamane, offers support to children who may be on their way to find work in Libya.|
By Sandra Bisin
AGADEZ, Niger, 9 November 2009 – It’s 6 a.m. at the Agadez bus station, and the members of the town’s Child Protection Committee are keeping a close watch on the waiting passengers for the bus heading towards the northern town of Dirkou.
This city is the last stop in Niger for illegal migrants on their way to neighbouring Libya. Among them are children lured by false promises of a better future.
The Child Protection Committee identifies a 14-year-old boy and a trafficker. The trafficker is taken to the police station. The child is interviewed by police officers before being taken to a transit centre run by Action Against the Use of Child Workers (AFETEN), a UNICEF partner organization.
“You can easily figure out fathers from traffickers,” says committee Vice President Bilal Afournounouk. “Traffickers are constantly checking on the children and have a rather brutal behaviour towards them. It is also easy to identify children aiming for illegal migration: They look scared and are afraid to move around.”
Hoping to earn money
One of four other boys who are already staying at the centre tells a familiar story about leaving home out of financial desperation.
“I left my family to go to Libya because I had seen older boys leave our village and come back with a lot of money,” says the boy, Mamane Noura, 16. “It is because of poverty that my parents decided to send me abroad. I was supposed to get a job as a domestic worker or in the plantations, and send them money every month.
“My family spent a fortune to pay the guide,” he adds. “They sold five goats and one cow to pay for my passage to Libya. Unfortunately, our guide disappeared when we reached Agadez, with all the money my parents had given him and I was told to come to this centre.”
UNICEF Niger supports two AFETEN transit centres, in Agadez and Niamey, for young migrants and children who are victims of economic exploitation. The centres provide short-term shelter, food, health care and psychological support. The programme also offers training in income-generating activities, as well literacy classes.
Unaware of the perils
Poverty is the key motivation for parents to send their children abroad. But they are unaware of the perils most children face in transit and at their destinations. An estimated 200,000 children are victims of child trafficking in Africa each year. Research has shown that most of the children trafficked to Libya are exploited as labourers in plantations or as child domestic workers.
The boys who are brought to the centre are told of the realities that they might have faced.
“I have explained to them the perils of the journey, the living and working conditions for migrants in Libya, the harsh reality and the fact that some children will never return,” says the head of AFETEN, Moutari Mamane. “They were quite shocked. They had no idea that the passage to Libya is a terrible ordeal for most people.”
‘Too many risks’
Although not yet totally convinced yet that he is on the right path for a better and safer future, Mamane, the 16-year-old would-be migrant, agrees he should stay with his family.
“I have understood that it is not good for a child to go to Libya,” he says. “There are too many risks. One can even die during the journey. When I am back in my village, I will tell the other boys about what I have learned.”
Between 2006 and 2008, with UNICEF support, a total of 348 children (including 10 girls) were supported at Agadez’s transit centre and repatriated to their villages; nine Child Protection Committees were created in the northern region of Agadez; and 18 children had the opportunity to engage in income-generating activities (mostly agriculture) when back in their villages.
Mr. Mamane says that the number of children transiting via Agadez for illegal migration has significantly decreased since their committee started operating two years ago. “Before, we used to identify up to 40 children in one day,” he notes. “These days, we rather identify four to six children in one day.”
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