afrol News, 1 May - Officials in Benin say investigations into the Etireno ship confirm that it was engaged in the child slave trafficking it was suspected of. A joint statement from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Beninese government said at least a dozen of the 43 children and young adults removed from the vessel appeared to have been potential slaves.
- At the current stage of information collection, it can be confirmed that the adventure of the Etireno ship enters effectively in the category of a regional traffic in minors and a clandestine workers' network, the statement said. The ship that docked in Cotonou on 17 April carried 43 children, of which 13 were from Benin, 8 from Togo, 17 from Mali, one from Senegal and one from Guinea.
According to the statement, five of the children reported that a financial transaction had taken place before their departure, while eight told officials they'd travelled with adults they did not know. The children involved are now being cared for by international charities.
The UNICEF country office in Benin, the Government of Benin and the non-governmental organization Terre des Hommes have interviewed all the children onboard the Etireno.
As the delegate of Terre des Hommes in Benin, Alfonso Gonzales, states in this confusing situation: "it is our duty to protect the children as long as the enquiry has not been brought to a conclusion and to make sure that the children accommodated today are not the tip of the iceberg of a traffic of children."
The Etireno was at the centre of an international search after Unicef said the ship was carrying more than 100 children destined to be sold into slavery in the relatively wealthy state of Gabon. There was considerable confusion when it turned out that this figure was wrong once the ship arrived in Cotonou.
Some people claimed there was a second ship that was still at sea, but this has never been found. Although the number shows up to be exagerated, the main allegations against the Etireno - child trafficking - now however have been proven.
The government of Benin now is appealing to the international community for assistance in tackling the problem of child trafficking, which it calls "a product of poverty and under-development." The statement says "the Government of Benin, in cooperation with UNICEF and other partners, is waging a war without mercy" against the sub-regional trafficking in minors.
UNICEF says it is "greatly concerned about the plight of children forced into labour and trafficked within and across country borders" in the region. "While the fate of the missing children in this most recent incident in Benin is unclear, what is clear is that some 200,000 children are trafficked every year in West and Central Africa," UNICEF states. "These children are employed on fishing vessels and farms, in prostitution and in sweatshops."
According to a study by Terre des Hommes Germany, two main routes of child trafficking in West Africa are to be particularly distinguished: "About 20 000 children - mainly boys - from Mali are forced to work in the plantations for exports of coffee, cocoa, bananas or cotton in the Ivory Coast. On the second route, boys and girls from Benin and Togo are brought to Gabon and Nigeria. Mostly this happens on very dangerous travels by ship through the gulf of Guinea.".