|© UNICEF Video|
|On a visit to Benin, her native country, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo listens to 13-year-old Rosine’s story of abuse.|
By Bruno Deméocq
COTONOU, Benin, 4 October 2007 – At the Laura Vicuna Centre for child rehabilitation here in Cotonou, UNICEF Goodwill Angélique Kidjo held in her arms a sobbing Rosine, 13, who had just bravely told her story of abuse.
Not long ago, Rosine was removed from the centre by her mother and given into marriage for a tin of oil and a bag of corn. The Salesian Sisters, who operate the UNICEF-supported facility, had to appeal to the prosecutor of the republic to get Rosine back – but by the time authorities rescued her, it was too late.
Rosine’s story was not the only one told that day. Rufine, 15, recounted how her father had sold her at age six to her aunt, who brutally abused her, physically and mentally. Since arriving at the centre, Rufine has become first in her class and now dreams of being a midwife.
Ms. Kidjo also met Senna, a frail eight-year-old who was brought to the centre badly bruised and with open wounds. Senna had been beaten with an electric wire by her aunt after being forced to work in the market all day.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Ms. Kidjo comforts a victim of abuse who now has a chance to regain her childhood at the Laura Vicuna Centre in Benin.|
“You should not think that because you have been hurt, you are worth less than anyone else,” said a visibly moved Ms. Kidjo. The internationally acclaimed singer visited the Laura Vicuna Centre during a recent tour of Benin for UNICEF.
“You deserve enjoyment and happiness,” she added. “Get rid of the word ‘impossible’. Believe in yourselves. What I am hearing now is hard for me, but you give me some more strength to fight.”
‘The child is sacred’
A quarter of all children aged 5 through 14 in Benin work. Many of them are abused, and each year several thousand become victims of trafficking. The fight to protect children from trafficking and abuse is a top priority of UNICEF and its partners, who work on prevention as well as care and reintegration of the young victims.
In addition to the Laura Vicuna Centre, the Salesian Sisters run a shelter and alternative education centre known as the House of Hope. Ms. Kidjo also visited that facility and another rehabilitation centre, Terre des Homme, where trafficked and exploited youths are counselled before being reunited with their families.
The children welcomed Ms. Kidjo to Terre des Homme with traditional songs and dances. Former victims of abuse sang and rejoiced with her, a sign that the wounds inflicted upon them are healing.
“The child is sacred,” said Ms Kidjo. “Poverty must not justify child trafficking anymore. Hand in hand, we can eradicate the phenomenon.”