|© UNICEF video|
|At a local police station, children rescued from child traffickers wait anxiously to be reunited with their parents in Guinea-Bissau.|
BAFATA REGION, Guinea-Bissau, 26 March, 2008 – At a remote police station in eastern Guinea-Bissau, Amandou Jau, 12, waited patiently to be reunited with his father. Amandou had been rescued from the clutches of a child trafficker who had sought to smuggle him across the border into Senegal.
Sadly, this is a not uncommon story in a region where young boys are regularly abducted.
Often, as in Amandou’s case, the trafficker will approach the boy’s parents in the guise of a religious teacher offering their child a free education. Amandou’s father believed he was doing the right thing by sending his son off to a free religious school. He was unaware that the stranger’s true intention was not to educate Amandou, but to force him to beg on the streets of Senegal for the trafficker’s own profit.
"When I saw my boy again, I cried," said Amandou's father, Mamadu Bailo Jau. "I never imagined that he would be in this situation… I will now keep him at home, and will never send a child away like this again."
Awareness is the best defense
UNICEF is working with its partner, the non-governmental organization SOS Talibé, to inform parents about the realities of child-trafficking in Senegal. Estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 children are prisoners of the streets there, and that most originated from Guinea-Bissau.
|© UNICEF video|
|A group of attentive students, eager for instruction, fill a classroom in Guinea-Bissau.|
"They exploit the families and the children,” says SOS Talibé Coordinator Malam Baio. “They take advantage of the innocent for their own gains. This is wrong and against Islam. The right thing to do is to protect the children."
Protecting children is not easy when two-thirds of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Parents in Guinea-Bissau want to provide what is best for their children, but all too often they lack the necessary means to do so. Such parents are highly susceptible to being duped by false promises of a free education for their child – Amandou’s parents were no exception.
Long-term effects of child-trafficking
One of the long-term consequences for trafficked children, says Mr. Baio, is that they “are raised without learning any marketable skills, so when they reach adulthood and are no longer effective at begging on the streets, they frequently turn to crime to survive.”
To address this issue, SOS Talibé seeks to offer the children in their care a dual education system in both Arabic and Portuguese.
For its part, UNICEF is providing immediate assistance to victims of child trafficking, as well as supporting studies on the best methods of preventing trafficking and exploitation. Efforts are being made to raise awareness among parents and community leaders through training sessions on child-trafficking prevention and victim assistance.
By educating the community about child trafficking, UNICEF and its partners hope to provide parents with better tools to defend against those who prey upon their children – and, in time, drive traffickers out of business for good.