Child Trafficking in Benin
By Paul Ndiho
March 6, 2012
In Benin, child trafficking is a crime that is strongly punished, but child trafficking still is at all-time high. Young children are being sold into domestic servitude or the commercial sex trade in Cotonou.
Dossou concentrates hard on geometry exercise. He is only 12. But he knows what it’s like not be able to go to school. After his parents split up, his father sold him. He spent three months alone and scared in Nigeria.
“One day my daddy said to me come, we’re going somewhere. And we went to Nigeria. The place he took me to, there was a lady there. She was selling maize. He told me to stay with the lady. When he left I cried. The lady told me to be quiet and I was quiet.”
Dossou’s story is not unique in Benin, a small country with porous borders where thousands of children are trafficked every year. There are also about 600-child laborers in Benin. Boys are forced to work on farms, in construction, produce handicrafts, or hawk items on the street.
“Child trafficking is big issues in Benin so UNICEF is supporting the government to fight against this phenomenon to be able to save these children, recuperate them and get them back into their childhood and to train them.”
UNICEF supports organizations such as Don Bosco and the Salesiane Sisters, which help children from the streets and victims of child trafficking like Dossou.
“With this type of child the first thing to do is reassure them, because he’s a child who has been sold by his own father. So the first thing to do was to reassure him, to guarantee his protection and to tell him that in this place he will feel safe. That’s the first thing. Then we had to motivate him so he would rediscover the joy of living, of going back to school.”
The Don Bosco Centre in Porto Novo touches the lives of vulnerable children in various ways. Some of them, like Dossou, live here. Others do fast-track schooling or learn a trade.
Three outreach centers have been opened in marketplaces for vulnerable children.
14 year-old bread seller Honorine started coming to this shelter in Cotonou’s market two years ago.
She didn’t know how to tell her mother she was taking time off from work. So she gave her a necklace she had made at the outreach center.
“I have noticed that my daughter has changed since coming here. There have been great improvements in her upbringing. I have definitely noticed changes in Honorine’s behavior.”
“The barraques that you see behind me were put in place by NGOS and they are very important step for children in life because they give them a second chance to return to childhood and begin their livelihood like a child and to start on a new path on their lives.”