Overview | Aperçu

Children in West and Central Africa

UNICEF in the region

Polio immunization | Vaccination contre la polio

Maternal and Newborn Health


HIV/AIDS in the region


Water and Sanitation

Child Protection



Child labour, migration and trafficking

The West and Central Africa region is urbanising rapidly and already half of the region’s population is living in towns and cities. This is having a number of effects on the protection of children. Urbanisation is leading to pressures on basic social services which are not able to cope with the demands of the fast increasing population. Other effects of urbanisation include the expansion of slums, family breakdown, and a general increase in the vulnerability of children, such as children living and working in the street, sexual exploitation and juvenile delinquency. Traditionally, families and communities have been the most important sources of support and protection for vulnerable children. However, urbanisation, migration and other drivers of social change are putting increased pressures on family networks and traditional safety nets.

The early involvement of children in productive activities is widely regarded as a normal part of socialisation and informal adoption and placement of children in extended families (confiage) is a widespread practice in West and Central Africa (e.g. 80% of urban households in Guinea host children from their extended family). Within a changing social and economic context, these two cultural practices constitute a source of vulnerability for children. The circulation of children now takes place in a wider space where communal responsibilities for child protection are weakened and where the interests of the child is not always respected. The educational value of work is being replaced by economic considerations driven by survival strategies.

Child labour: One third of boys and girls in West and Central Africa work, many in harmful and hazardous conditions. According to UNICEF and ILO statistics, there has been little reduction in the overall percentage of children who work. Efforts to reduce child labour have had mixed success, partly because programmes and policies were not sufficiently based on the realities of the lives of children and their families, partly because of a lack of evidence of effective interventions. UNICEF has commissioned a series of briefing papers to present the current state of evidence in relation to five types of child labour that are particularly prevalent in the region: child domestic work, children in mines and quarries, child begging (talibé), children in the urban informal sector, and children in agriculture. Based on a better understanding of the complexities of motivations and decisions taken by children and their families, child labour programmes supported by UNICEF are developing more effective approaches.

Child trafficking: Over the past decade, UNICEF has played an important role in strengthening prevention and responses to child trafficking in the region. Regional partnerships have been strengthened to develop systems and services for the prevention and response to the exploitation of children through improved sub-regional collaboration and coordination. Support was provided for multilateral agreements on child trafficking (e.g. Abuja conference on trafficking against children in 2006, ECOWAS) and bilateral cooperation between countries to protect children from being trafficked and to facilitate their repatriation. The regional office played a strategic role in convening and supporting cross-border and sub-regional initiatives to strengthen collaboration against child exploitation and trafficking, for example between Togo/Benin and Gabon, and regarding talibé children in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. Anti-trafficking efforts are now being integrated in more comprehensive child protection systems.

Migration and mobility of children: Early efforts to reduce child trafficking by preventing children from migrating and sending child migrants back to their rural communities were largely ineffective. Migration in West and Central Africa has long historic roots and the migration of children has to be understood within a broader context of cultural, religious and ethnic relations, economic strategies and social mobility. UNICEF is part of a regional inter-agency initiative on child migration and mobility, which involves Plan International, Terre des Hommes, Save the Children, ILO, and IOM. This initiative on children on the move aims to improve our understanding of child migration and mobility in the region and to inform programmes to prevent child trafficking and to reduce the risks migrating children are facing. This means preparing adolescents before they leave home with information and the necessary documents, ensuring that they have a support network along the main transport routes and in the place of destination, that they know where to go when they are facing difficulties, and collaboration with associations of migrants from the adolescent migrants’ home area. Importantly, mechanisms to reduce risks of migration for adolescents have to be integrated in formal and community-based child protection systems.

Little is known about the migration of children who leave West Africa and cross the Sahara desert towards North Africa and Europe. UNICEF is supporting the first study on child migration to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon and to contribute to the strengthening of services for children who are migrating to North Africa.



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