“Parents of Benin, from north to south, from east to west, promise me that you will do everything you can to send your daughters to school,” Kidjo implored. “Keep your child safe from exploitation and abuse. Keep them in school.”
Throughout the visit, the renowned Beninese singer was greeted everywhere with loud applause and always with song and dance. But despite the joyous welcome, her mission was a serious one: to stress the importance of sending girls to school and to fight against child trafficking and exploitation.
Kidjo, who also founded the Batonga Foundation to help young girls pursue their secondary and higher education, helped launch the 2007 “All Girls to School” campaign, led by the Government of Benin with the support of UNICEF and 15 partners. The initiative calls for the acceleration of girls’ education in this Western African nation.
“I was born in a family of nine children. But my parents sent us all to school,” Kidjo told a captive audience of young girls. “It is because I have been educated that I was able to make my dreams come true and become a singer. If I can do it, you can do it too.”
UNICEF Representative in Benin, Philippe Duamelle, underlined the important progress that education in Benin has witnessed in the past few years. Pre- and primary-school education is now free and the gap between enrolment rates for boys and girls have been reduced.
“Nevertheless, one girl out of three still does not go to school. This situation requires an urgent and large-scale reaction,” he said. “We must significantly increase our efforts for Benin to be able to ensure quality education for all, in a safe environment.”
Hope and emotion marked the second part of Kidjo’s visit dedicated to the fight against child trafficking.
The UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador visited centres in Cotonou caring for trafficked children who had been rescued from their captors. Many of the children had been beaten and forced into hard labour.
Kidjo met with one little girl, thought to be eight years, who had just recently arrived at the centre. The girl’s frail body was covered with fresh open wounds. She had been repeatedly beaten with an electric wire by her aunt who was supposedly meant to be caring for her.
Families from rural areas often send their children to the cities to relatives who promise to provide them with an education and a brighter future. Tragically, this is rarely the case. Approximately 500 000 children aged 5 to 14 work in Benin and many of them are abused. Several thousands are victims of domestic and cross border trafficking each year.
Fighting against this terrible injustice is a priority for UNICEF.
Encouraging the girls she met, Kidjo told them to arm themselves with an education so that they will be able to lead a better life.
“You have to respect yourselves and you have to remember that you deserve an education. It is your right,” she said. “Get rid of the word impossible. Believe in yourselves, stay in school and protect yourselves and each other.”
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For more information, please contact:
Chantal Lorho, UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa, (221) 4505816 / 8697654 email@example.com
Gisèle Langue-Menye, UNICEF Bénin, (229) 21300266 / 90032915 firstname.lastname@example.org