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Beninese slave children return from Nigeria
afrol News, 16 October - Beninese and Nigerian officials have repatriated 74 Beninese children sold to work in Nigerian granite pits. The operation forms part of a larger initiative by the two governments to clean up the child slave trafficking between Benin and Nigeria.
The group of Beninese children, some with open wounds, yesterday returned home to Benin's capital, Cotonou, and were found to be in a miserable state after experiencing harsh working conditions in Nigeria. The youngest boy was estimated to be only four years old, while others ranged from 7 to 14 years old.
The children had told UN officials that 13 of their companions had died in the past three months due to the harsh working conditions. "We would break the stones, and the men would come take them away in trucks," a thin boy aged about 10 told The Associated Press in Cotonou. His companions further told of lack of nutrition and long working hours.
It is estimated that about 15,000 Beninese children are held as slave workers in Nigeria alone. Beninese children further are sold off to traffickers taking them to work in households and production in countries as wide apart as Gabon and Ghana. Many are kidnapped from their parents, while others are sold.
Beninese and Nigerian authorities started their action against child slave labour in August this year, after Presidents Mathieu Kérékou (Benin) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) signed an anti-trafficking agreement. Since then, the two countries have established joint border patrols to crack down on trafficking, smuggling and banditry.
Nigerian authorities last month launched an initiative to localise Beninese slave children at the vast country's labour market. A first group of 116 Beninese children, between 10 and 12 years old, was localised during September and sent back to Benin on 26 September. Yesterday's repatriation includes parts of the 120 Beninese children found working in Nigeria since September.
The search for enslaved children in Nigeria and the trafficking networks goes on. Nine Beninese and Nigerian nationals have already been arrested for child trafficking and Nigerian authorities hope they will be able to locate some 6,000 child slaves by the end of the year and send them back to Benin.
Back in Benin, the children are now being taken care of by local social workers. After giving the freed child workers a needed time off, Beninese authorities are to interview them to be able to localise their parents and reintegrate them into their families.
As many of the children originally had been sold by their impoverished parents, the reunification however could become problematic in many cases. According to sources in Cotonou, many parents could be prosecuted for negligence. Found guilty of facilitating child trafficking, these parents face a minimum of five years imprisonment.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), child trafficking and labour is a widespread problem in Western Africa - not only in Benin and Nigeria - due to the high occurrence of poverty.
Millions of children in the region are victims of child labour and tens of thousands are trafficked to other countries, where they serve as slave labour or are sexually exploited, the agency reports.
By staff writer
© afrol News
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