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At a glance: Nigeria

West and Central African nations join forces to end child trafficking

UNICEF Image: Benin, Nigeria, Child trafficking
© UNICEF video
These three boys in Za Hla village, Zakpota District, Benin, were trafficked for hard labour in Nigeria. They were returned after eight months when their case was reported to the police.

By Sarah Crowe

ABUJA, Nigeria, 7 July 2006 – A multilateral accord against the trafficking of women and children was signed here yesterday, as UNICEF and its partners spearheaded a joint ministerial conference of 26 West and Central African countries, representatives of European governments, the International Labour Organization and the UN Office against Drugs and Crime.

“No country in West and Central Africa can claim not to face the problem of human trafficking,” said UNICEF’s director for the region, Esther Guluma, at the opening of the two-day conference.

“Only a holistic approach can successfully stop this exploitation of children that is a violation of their human rights, dignity and freedom of movement,” she added. “One of the most efficient ways is the connection of a regional partnership. This conference is a milestone in building this collaboration.”

The historic new accord – signed at a joint conference in Abuja by regional bodies, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – aims to reinforce cooperation in areas like the repatriation of victims and the extradition of traffickers. The regional agreement is legally binding on all ECOWAS countries and on the 11 members of ECCAS.

Three sons sold for labour

The agreement will target cases like that of a father in Benin who negotiated a “good price” for his three 10-year-old sons. He received 10,000 Centrale Franc Africain (about $20) as a down-payment from a trafficker for the boys to leave their village to go to work in Nigeria, and was told he would get 90,000 CFA ($180) for his sons’ labour for a year.

The money was about enough to keep the man’s large family of 4 wives and 20 children fed for a month. But his three sons had no idea what faced them in Nigeria.

“They told us we were going to work with chickens and collect eggs,” said one of the boys, “but when we arrived in Nigeria, we had to work like adults crushing stone at the quarries. It was terrible work, really tough. We got very little to eat and we were not allowed to go anywhere.”

For his part, the father explained: “It is what is done around here. I was promised good money for the boys for one year. We are very poor.”

UNICEF Image: Benin, Nigeria, Child trafficking
© UNICEF Benin/2006/Crowe
Fourteen boys at this small school in Za Hla village, Benin, were trafficked to Nigeria to work.

Children exploited and abused

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked across porous borders throughout West and Central Africa. In Nigeria, for example, where the borders with Benin and Cameroon are 773 km and 1,690 km long, respectively, it is difficult to control trafficking.

Now widely considered a form of modern-day slavery, this practice has its roots in an old tradition based on the quest for a better life. Children would be placed with relatives in cities to receive an education, in return for helping out in the home.

Often, parents don’t know – or don’t want to know – what happens to their children who end up being exploited, physically and mentally abused as domestic workers or forced into prostitution.

An end to trafficking

“You are not a human being if you do that to your own children. People have to take responsibility for these crimes. It has to be punished,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Alassane Biga.

The three boys trafficked from Benin were lucky. After eight months of hard labour in Nigeria, a countryman reported their case to the police and they were taken home. Their school fees are being paid by UNICEF and its partners to ensure that their father is not tempted to re-sell them.

Financial assistance for the poorest families and other initiatives – like mobile cinemas that screen educational films for people living in remote villages – help to inform vulnerable families about the reality of child trafficking. There’s hope that the joint ministerial conference now wrapping up in Abuja can go one step further toward putting an end to this illicit and dehumanizing practice.




6 July 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on child trafficking in Benin.
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