Care for Vulnerable Children
A Community Stands Up to Traffickers
The rumour spread through the village that twelve-year-old Maimouna was planning to leave home to work in Ivory Coast, a neighbouring country.
She denied it when her mother challenged her although plans were firmly in place not just for her to leave, but also for more than 20 other children accompanying her.
Maimouna spent the night at her grandmother’s home. The next morning, she ran away to a designated meeting place with no luggage and no travel documents, just the clothes she was wearing. She met up with different groups of children en route until they all caught the bus to Burkina Faso along with a man, who she does not identify. “He told us he would help us across the borders by train to our destination in Ivory Coast. I did not know what work I would do. I just knew that an uncle would be waiting for us and that we would work first to pay back our travel costs. I thought I would have to stay about three years.” She does not go into detail about who helped her during the trip, but it seems clear that this was a case of trafficking.
Fortunately, the police discovered the children hiding under clothes in the train as it entered Burkina Faso. “I was really afraid,” says Maimouna, speaking in the local language, Dogon. “At that point, I realized that I had lost control of my life.”
The police were working closely with an NGO called “Mali Enjeu” which is supported by UNICEF to fight trafficking.
Maimouna, sitting next to her mother in their home of mud and straw, explains why three years ago she took such a risk. Her father died, and although her uncle married her mother, they did not have money. “I needed money at the time to buy things, like a necklace, silver, gold and plates for my marriage,” she says shyly. Her mother said she was unaware of her daughter’s plan to marry so young. Her story is typical of many girls living in rural areas, with little or no education and no prospects of escaping a life of hardship and poverty.
In a study on the rights of children and women conducted in Mali in 2008 with UNICEF support, 8.8 per cent of the children interviewed said they had been victims of trafficking.
“Mali Enjeu” tackles this covert but widespread type of child abuse by working with community leaders and associations in villages where children have been targetted by traffickers, as well as assisting the children who have been trafficked to either return to school or to start an income generating activity.
Oumou Barry belongs to an association of about 50 women called “Dental” which means “Union” in Fulani, set up in 2005 in Guiwagou village, near the village where Maimouna lives, in the border region of Bankass, with the support of UNICEF. The association is made of women’s groups engaged in income generating activities. They began by selling fish, but have since diversified to other activities, including tie-dye. Each month the association contributes a percentage of their profits for food for the canteen in their local community school. “The objective is to keep our children in school,” says Oumou, a mother of three children, one of whom is a 12-year-old daughter. “I am worried for her as a lot of girls do drop out of schools to go and work in Ivory Coast.”
The Director of the community school, Belco Sangarė, says that although his pupils do leave school for the cities and other countries, many more are staying on in school, partly credit, he says, to the association’s support of the canteen. “When we started the community school we only had 12 pupils, but now we have 190. The women have really helped our children.”
Maimouna decided she wanted support with breeding livestock. Mali Enjeu gave her four sheep, and she has learnt some basic literacy skills.
She also gives talks to other children in different villages about the dangers of being trafficked. “I tell them about my experience; that it is risky and not a solution to their problems. It is better to look for a way of earning a living in their home village.”