AFRICA/BENIN - “Child labour is a modern form of slavery ” says Father Claude, in front line to fight the plague of street children in Benin

Saturday, 13 March 2004

Cotonou (Fides Service )- More than 4,000 children in Benin, one of the poorest countries in Africa, are sent to work in other countries. This tragic news was reported to Fides by Father Claude, who has been missionary in Benin for years and runs a home for street children in Cotonou, the capital. “The country is a crossroads for trafficking of minors in this region. Children from Togo are brought here before being sent to Ivory Coast and Nigeria to work in plantations ” Father Claude told Fides. “This is one of many forms of trafficking which have bases in this country. Benin is also crossed by the routes of drugs and arms”.
“Poor families sell their children to trafficking organisations for a small some of money and a promise of a decent job for their child whereas in fact the children are exploited and often forced to do hours of hard work in plantations without receiving any recompense at all. They are completely isolated, unable to contact their family. A few, but only a few, manage to escape and return home. But most of them will never see their families again: this is slavery, there is no other word for it”.
“The traffickers are well organised: before the children are sent to their destination they are put in a collection centre and indoctrinated on how to behave at the border when the police come to check the convoys. It is not difficult to convince them to collaborate: after all they have been sent by the families” Father Claude told Fides.
“And it is easy for the traffickers to work in countries like Benin where the state is still weak and has difficulty in imposing law in its territory ” the priest said. “Occasionally the authorities of Nigeria and Ivory Coast repatriate children but unfortunately this happens only sporadically. However due to war trafficking with Ivory Coast did slow down”.
The Home run by Father Claude has an average of 80 children at a time: “they come and go all the time. And we help many more than we actually accommodate” Father Claude told Fides. “It is important that children keep contact with us after they have left because our aim is to reunite them with their families. The older ones in the Home are given professional training: a job is their only chance of leaving the streets”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 13/3/2003 righe 33 parole 431)