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Child Trafficking, Slavery, and Exploitation


The Global Persecution of Women


Jeremy Lovell, “Children Being Exploited Worldwide, Says UNICEF UK,” New York Times, 20 Feb. 2005.

LONDON - More than 211 million children worldwide aged 5-15 are working full time, half of them in appalling conditions, some as prostitutes and miners, and huge aid increases are needed to help them, UNICEF's UK branch said.

In a scathing report published on Monday, the British branch of the United Nations Children's Fund said the only way to end child labour was to end poverty, and rich industrialised nations must give far more in development aid to poor countries.

"A huge amount still remains to be done to protect children's rights all over the globe and to prevent their exploitation," UNICEF UK's executive director David Bull said.

From unregulated chemical plants in Asia to the giant open cast mines of Latin America and the stone quarries of West Africa, child labour is a scar on the conscience of the world in the 21st century, the report said.

Children are forced to work not only as soldiers in African wars or in the sweatshops of Asia, but also as cheap farm labour in north America and prostitutes in Europe, it said.

"Estimates of the number of young people working on farms in the US vary from 300,000 to 800,000," the report said. "Many are from minority groups, particularly Spanish-speaking immigrant families."

It also cited prostitutes as young as 15 working on the streets of English cities.

The report said children were born, sold or trafficked into what amounts to domestic slavery in many countries, some earning barely $1 a month.

The incidence of child labour is highest in Africa where 41 percent of those aged 5 to 14 are known to work, compared with 21 percent in Asia and 17 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But Asia accounts for 60 percent of the world's working children because of its higher population.

UNICEF stressed that not all working children were at risk, but noted that if school-age children were at work they were missing the education needed to lift them out of poverty and drudgery.

It said the only way to end child labour was to end poverty, and called on the rich industrialised nations to boost aid by $50 billion a year and meet a decades-old pledge to raise annual aid budgets to 0.7 percent of national income.

Aid should be better targeted to help the poor directly and support should be given to help developing nations take charge of their own budgets and development programmes.

"2005 holds unprecedented opportunities for the UK government to use the G8 summit and its presidency of the EU to drive forward the fight against poverty, debt and trade injustices," Bull said.

"It is a great opportunity to transform children's lives."


Somini Sengupta, “Child Traffickers Prey on Bangladesh,” New York Times, 29 April 2002.

HAKA, Bangladesh. Nuru Miah's hands show the hazards of his vocation: a small scar on the back of his right palm marks where a camel once sunk its teeth.

Nuru, now around 10, spent two years as a camel jockey in the Dubai desert.

How his parents were persuaded to send him to the Persian Gulf is unclear, though promises of a better life, perhaps a little money, are the conventional sales pitches. What is known is that he was sent from his home, a village south of here, when he was about 7.

Once he arrived in Dubai, his meals were rationed to make sure he did not gain much weight. He was whipped when he was disagreeable. Still, he was luckier than many of his peers. Other little boys with whom he worked, he recalled, tumbled from the camels and broke their bones.

Nuru, the son of landless peasants, is among an untold number of children who are taken out of this country each year by traffickers. Some are kidnapped, others are sold.

Boys, some as young as 4 or 5, are mostly put to work as camel jockeys in the Persian Gulf. Most girls are sent to India and Pakistan to work as prostitutes and maids. Sometimes, parents are compensated for their labor; sometimes, the money dries up in a few months. Children are known to have been ferried away for as little as 3,000 Bangladeshi takas, less than $75.

Their young minds can be both blessing and curse. Many simply forget their homes, the faces of their parents, the sounds of their native language. "Are they dying? Disappearing? Getting lost? We don't know," said Salma Ali, executive director of the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, one of this country's main antitrafficking organizations. "We're not seeing many of them come back."

On any given week, the association's offices see a stream of hapless parents, occasionally bearing pictures of a long-lost boy or girl.

Employing children as camel jockeys is illegal in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. But a picture of the ongoing trade emerges from the rare testimony of boys like Nuru who do make it home.

Bangladesh is considered one of the most vulnerable spots on the global trafficking market, a product of the desperate poverty here and the demand for cheap labor elsewhere.

The problem has begun to draw government attention. Bangladesh now has a trafficking law, with stiff penalties. But most of those who have been arrested are low-level operators: a relative, a neighbor, a migrant worker looking to gain an advantage by ferrying along a child. Court cases generally rely on no more than the testimony of a child.

The kingpins have eluded the authorities, specialists say. What is more, government efforts to protect the prime victims of trafficking, women and children, have had unintended consequences.

Bangladesh now effectively bars women, though not men, from working overseas legally, except for skilled professionals. Women continue to go illegally, though, taking jobs as domestics, factory workers and, unwittingly or not, as prostitutes.

An ambitious public education campaign against trafficking is under way, with plans for an advertising campaign, village meetings and special training for police and border guards.

But even those who are part of this effort say they doubt it will do much to combat a hugely lucrative business. A crackdown by Western countries on immigration, they say, only makes the passage more perilous and the smuggler's job more lucrative.

"If there's a demand, if there's a supply, and if there are no regular channels" for migration, said Shahidul Haque, the regional representative at the International Office of Migration here, "people will take advantage of smugglers."

In the case of a little boy named Rubel Hussain, the smuggler or, as Rubel's mother insists, the abductor was a neighbor in a Dhaka shantytown, a woman named Najma, who made a lean living fixing lunch boxes for rickshaw pullers. Najma had a son, Babul, who was Rubel's playmate. Each was about 4 years old. One night, Rubel was invited to sleep over.

Rubel's mother, Amena Begum, remembers the next morning in chilling detail. She awoke to a bad dream, rushed over to Najma's home and found it empty. Neighbors said she left with the two boys in the middle of the night. Word spread they had gone to Dubai. Both boys, it turned out, were bound for lives as camel jockeys.

It would not be inconceivable to think that Amena Begum, a woman with two other children to feed, no husband, and a crumbling lean-to, could have sent away her eldest child voluntarily. Indeed, she had received offers to do so and, she insists, rejected them in no uncertain terms. "I will beg for a living," she said. "But I won't sell my children."

Rubel remembers waking up on an airplane and asking for his mother. Najma told him they were going on a one-day holiday. He was instructed to tell strangers she was his mother.

In Dubai, Rubel panicked at the sight of a camel. He screamed and wept when he was forced on. It turned out to be his salvation. He was put to work tending goats instead.

His co-workers, he still remembers, suffered far worse. He saw a Pakistani boy fall off a camel and get trampled. Babul, Najma's son, broke his arm. His friend, Nuru, the boy bitten by the camel, was always hungry. "If he ate any more," Rubel explained, his arm around his friend's shoulder, "he would put on weight and then he wouldn't be able to sit on a camel."

Last year, Najma came back to Bangladesh with both Babul and Rubel. Word spread and last May, local police, accompanied by Rubel's mother and investigators from the Lawyers Association, raided Najma's home. But the mother-child reunion was not all they may have hoped for. When Amena Begum rushed over to embrace her son, the boy turned to Najma and asked, in Arabic, "Who is this?" He did not recognize her. He no longer spoke a word of Bengali. He had been gone six years.

All through the bus ride from Najma's village back to Dhaka, Amena Begum regaled her son with tales of their past. She told him about their shanty, about how she had looked for him for weeks, about his little brother and sister.

Najma has been in jail since last May, awaiting trial on trafficking charges. Judging by the backlog in the Dhaka courts, her case is likely to languish a long while. And even though others arranged for the fake travel papers, bought her tickets and employed Rubel, no one else has been charged.

Both Nuru and Rubel live in a children's shelter run by the Lawyers Association. The shelter is home to some two dozen unschooled boys, some of them former camel jockeys, others simply orphans. For the first time, they are learning their letters.

More than 120 women and girls, many of them pulled out of brothels, live on the shelter's upper floors. Those who run the shelter say they hope to send the girls home one day, but reintegrating girls who have worked in the sex trade, an increasing focus of antitrafficking groups here, is a formidable task: the girls are usually shunned once they return home.

Amena Begum's existence has not improved. City authorities are razing the shantytown where she lives. The pittance she makes as a part-time maid is not enough to send either of her two other children to school.

On a recent afternoon, she was lying down on a blanket on the ground, coughing and nursing aches. Flies buzzed around a bowl of fish curry. Her two children cuddled next to her. She said she could not imagine offering Rubel a better life than the one he has at the shelter.

Still, she considers herself blessed compared with some of her neighbors. One woman in the same slum lost her boy to kidnappers 10 years ago.

"At least I got my son back," Amena Begum said. "She's been waiting for 10 years."


Carlotta Gall, “With Child Kidnappings on Rise, Afghans Seek Help From Public,” New York Times, 30 April 2004.

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 29 - The Afghan interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, made an unusual appeal to the public on Thursday to watch out for child kidnappers and traffickers, after the police uncovered widespread cases of child kidnapping across the country.

More than 187 children have been rescued from kidnappers, and 100 kidnappers have been caught in the past year, Mr. Jalali said. Women, girls and boys are being kidnapped in every province of the country, often by criminal networks that deal in human trafficking, using children for crime or even trading body parts, he said.

There are signs that the problem may be growing, he said, citing the fact that one-fourth of the 187 kidnapped children had been rescued just in the last month. The police rescued about 17 children in Kabul alone in the last two weeks, he said.

The recent increase may be because more cases are being reported now, Mr. Jalali said. But a lack of awareness and expertise among the police had allowed the problem to grow more serious, he said.

The police have organized special teams to campaign against kidnapping, and the recent increase in the number of children found is a sign of their success, he said. Ordinary citizens have played an important role in thwarting kidnappers or tipping off the police, and Mr. Jalali appealed for more help from the public.

Women and children are kidnapped for both the international and domestic markets, he said. Approximately 750 Afghan children have ended up in Saudi Arabia in past years, 250 of whom were repatriated last year, he said. Children are often used for street begging or child labor, and they have sometimes been sold or sent with the consent of their parents, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has said.

"Some of the cases which happened recently are particularly harrowing," Mr. Jalali said. "They are kidnapped with different aims, whether for illegal use, for trafficking, for use in different kinds of crimes and also unfortunately they kidnap them to use parts of their bodies."

People's Republic of China

Ching-Ching Ni, “China’s use of child labor emerges from the shadows. The deaths of five girls draw attention to the practice, common in struggling rural areas,” LA Times, 13 May 2005.

BEIXINZHUANG, China — Christmas was just two days away and snow was falling when the five factory girls finished their shift. They'd been working for 12 hours, it was already after 1 a.m., and their dorm was freezing cold. One of them ran out to grab a bucket and some burning coal. The room warmed slightly. They drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, none of them woke up. They had been poisoned by the fumes. But their parents believe at least two of the girls died much more horrible deaths.

They charge that the owner of the canvas-making factory was so impatient to cover up the fact that three of the unconscious workers were underage that he rushed the girls into caskets while some were still alive.

"You see the damage on the corner of the box, the bruises on the side of her head, and the vomit in her hair?" said Jia Haimin, the mother of 14-year-old Wang Yajuan, pointing to pictures of her daughter lying in a cardboard casket stained with vomit and appearing to show evidence of a struggle. "Dead people can't bang their heads against the box. Dead people can't vomit. My child was still alive when they put her in there."

The case, made public months later by New York-based Human Rights in China, highlights this country's often hidden problem of child labor. The Chinese government officially forbids children under 16 from working, but critics say it does little to enforce the law. Statistics are hard to come by, but in some estimates, as many as 10 million school-age children are doing their part to turn China into a low-cost manufacturing powerhouse. China's one-child policy may have produced a generation of spoiled "little emperors" in the nation's relatively wealthy cities, but poverty and lopsided development have driven a disproportionate number of rural children out of the classrooms and into lives of labor.

"We know enough about the problem to know child labor is extremely widespread," said Robin Munro, research director at China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based labor rights organization. "The rural education system in many parts of the countryside is in a state of virtual collapse. There is a high dropout rate of children under 16. They are not just sitting around doing nothing. It is safe to assume most are engaged in some kind of work illegally."

Children, some as young as 4, roam China's relatively prosperous coastal cities, begging on the streets or selling roses deep into the night, apparently victims of schemes that use youngsters as bait. Even infants are being rented out as maternal cover for women selling pirated porn movies on the streets.

Things could get worse before they get better. Parts of southern China's coastal areas are experiencing a sudden labor shortage. Low wages and poor conditions have left adults reluctant to take many of the jobs, and an increasing number would rather stay home on the farm than be exploited in the cities.

That could drive up demand for underage workers. Already, children are victims of kidnappings and contract labor arrangements in which they are forced to work.

In 2000, state media reported that 84 children had been kidnapped from southern China's Guizhou province to work in coastal cities assembling Christmas lights. The youngest was 10. In 2001, an explosion at a rural school in Jiangxi province killed 42 people, most of them third- and fourth-graders who were believed to be making fireworks at the time of the blast.

More recently, labor activists say a growing number of rural schools have contracted out entire classes of students to work in urban factories, supposedly to help defray part of their school costs.

"They call it work study programs," Munro said. "Of course, it's child labor, because the school was earning money from it."

In parts of the country where the local economy is supported by a single cottage industry, such as assembling fireworks or disassembling electronic trash, children work from home.

One area in central Zhejiang province is known for making little tinfoil papers that are used in a ritual to honor the dead. Most of the work is done in homes, and the whole family often chips in.

"It's boring work," said a 12-year-old girl who began helping her mother make the papers when she was 7. The girl, who wasn't identified because of her age, can finish 800 sheets a day. "Children like to play. But my mother always says you can play after you finish your work."

Local authorities have recently begun cracking down on the practice after many of the area's children began testing positive for lead poisoning and skin ailments.

In principle, China is committed to ending child labor. According to the International Labor Organization, China has ratified two ILO conventions on labor practices. Convention 138 forbids minors under 15 from working. Convention 182 bans the worst forms of child labor, including prostitution and slave labor.

But this is a country where making laws is much easier than implementing them. Youths desperate to help their families or simply tired of village life can easily lie about their age and use fake identity papers. Employers eager to hire them for their nimble hands and low cost often don't bother to check.

"This is a society in transition," said Hans van de Glind of the ILO's office in Beijing, who is working with the Chinese government on a pilot project to prevent trafficking of girls for labor exploitation. "The intention is there to make progress."

On the dusty plains of Beixinzhuang village, in northern China's Hebei province, grieving parents blame poverty and lack of opportunity for sending their children to the factories.

"Rural families are not like city people — not all children can afford to go to school. So they work to help alleviate the family's burdens," said Sun Jiangfen, the mother of another 14-year-old, Jia Wanyun, who died in December. "In this village, every family has a child working in a factory. Some just 13."

Sun's daughter had been on the job about a month when the five girls died. She had quit school the previous spring, moving about 35 miles away to an industrial suburb of Shijiazhuang, because her parents needed her help to put her 12-year-old brother through school. Many rural girls drop out because their families can't afford to pay more than one tuition. At about $300 a head, two children in school would be too much for her migrant construction worker father and farmer mother.

The 14-year-old was promised about $100 a year in wages, but she hadn't been paid a penny because she was still considered an apprentice, her mother said. The youngster had toiled 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Both of Wang Shuangzheng's daughters had worked at the canvas factory spinning yarns. His 21-year-old stopped recently after marrying; his younger daughter, Jia Shiwei, picked up the slack when she was 15 and had been working there two years.

The family last saw her during autumn harvest when she came home to help. Her grandmother suffered a stroke when she learned of her death, and the whole family is still in shock.

"She wanted to go, and I couldn't stop her. My son's getting married and we need the money," said Wang, a farmer who earns less than $500 a year.

Another villager, Wang Shuhai, has been ill for years with a heart condition. He is unable to work, and his family is deep in debt because of his medical expenses.

He is tormented by the thought that his daughter, Wang Yajuan, died because of him. She had called only once after she left for work last fall, he said, and she was aching to come home.

"She said she didn't want to stay there anymore. The work was too hard and the food was terrible," said Wang, holding up a school photo of a fresh-faced little girl with a ponytail. "I told her to stay, because if you leave you wouldn't be paid. The child listened to me."

According to relatives, the girls rarely talked about how hard the conditions were.

"They don't want us to worry," said Jia Shitong, 24, Jia Shiwei's brother. "But think about it — 12 hours a day with no weekends off. How can it not be exhausting?"

The day of their final shift, parents say, the girls ate a quick meal before going to bed. They slept five to a room, sharing two single beds shoved together for maximum warmth.

"It must have been really cold," said Sun, Jia Wanyun's mother. "We all burn coal at home, but we have chimneys that let the smoke out. The children are so young, they probably did not know better to leave a window open. If they did, I'm sure they would rather stay cold."

For a while, the families fought the official ruling that their children had not been buried alive. They persisted even after last month's long-awaited autopsy, which reconfirmed the government's report.

"They ripped my daughter's heart out. The least they can do is give me some justice," said Jia Haimin, Wang Yajuan's mother.

Eventually they accepted a compensation package of about $12,000 each and agreed to drop all charges, according to the families' Beijing lawyer, Li Wusi.

"Sure, there are still lingering doubts about how they died," Li said. "But what choices do their parents have? Farmers have very low status in Chinese society. Farmers' daughters are the lowest of the low."

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sudarshan Raghavan, quoted in Austin Cline, “Child Witches Suffer in Congo,”,, downloaded 3 October 2006.

Across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, thousands of girls and boys, as young as 4 years old, are accused by their families of practicing witchcraft. They are abused, abandoned and, in most cases, scarred for life. ... In a society that still believes that evil spirits bring misfortune, children are easy to blame for lost jobs, failed crops and other economic and personal problems. But two factors are contributing to the growth of the problem: the disruption of traditional family life caused by the ongoing war and the surge in revivalist churches whose preachers rail against Satan and witches as the causes of all woes.

Paul Willis, “Children scapegoated as witches in fallout from Congo's civil war Abandoned turn to shelters; most live on the street,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9 July 2006.

Jocelyn Mbwenza does not believe in witchcraft.

"I have never seen it happen, so how can I know it is true?" asked the 13-year-old Congolese girl, sitting on the hard concrete floor of a children's home, nervously hugging her arms.

Nevertheless, Jocelyn is a "child-witch" -- or so her family claims.

"It started when my little brother got sick. No one knew what was wrong with him, but my stepfather said I was behind it," said Jocelyn, who looked in the soft light exactly like what she is -- a frightened child. "They took the boy to a church sect, and after examining him, the pastor stood up and announced to everyone that I had put a curse on him. After that, they began to blame me for everything."

Jocelyn's story is all too common in this war-torn central African country, where children are the victims of acute social deprivation, traditional extended families have been destroyed by decades of conflict, and belief in black magic remains deeply rooted.

Human rights groups say the growing phenomenon of so-called child-witches is fueled by the fallout from Congo's brutal civil war, which has killed 4 million combatants and civilians, making it the world's most lethal conflict since World War II. Though the war officially ended three years ago, fighting between militias and army troops continues in many parts of eastern Congo.

"This problem is unique to the Congo because of the terrible suffering brought on by the war," said Roger Katembwe-Buiki of Association Africaine de Defense des Droits de l'Homme, an African human rights group. "We have never known poverty like this, and people need to find someone to blame for what is happening to them. Children remain the easiest targets because they cannot fight back."

Reliable figures are hard to come by, but the international charity Save the Children estimates that there are more than 20,000 children in Kinshasa alone who have been accused of being witches, including both boys and girls ranging from toddlers to teenagers. A handful of centers have opened across Kinshasa to shelter some of the accused and abandoned children. Most of them, however, end up on the streets.

Frequently, the accused children are AIDS orphans who have been blamed for causing their parents' deaths. Although about 1.1 million Congolese -- 4.5 percent of the nation's population -- are HIV-positive, many adults remain unaware of the causes and effects of the disease.

"We are fighting two problems here: poverty and ignorance," Katembwe-Buiki said.

Children accused of witchcraft often undergo humiliating and painful public "exorcisms" presided over by self-appointed pastors. The more abusive ceremonies involve forced vomiting, sleep deprivation and cuts with razors to drive out the "evil spirits."

Drawing on a combination of Christian and traditional African beliefs, exorcisms are hugely popular, and congregations gather daily at hundreds of churches across the capital to witness them. Adult exorcisms are regularly screened on one of the many religious TV channels that dominate the airwaves.

"The irony is that many of these pastors were witch doctors who have embraced Christianity because the tribal beliefs are now seen as primitive," said Willy Kabwe, editor of the leading Congolese daily, Le Potentiel. "They retain the same beliefs but do it under the guise of Christianity."

Years of pressure from human rights groups have finally prompted the Congolese authorities to take a look at the activities of the TV exorcists. One channel was shut down recently after its leader incited his followers to violence during a public rally.

But, according to Katembwe-Buiki, child exorcisms remain almost completely unchecked.

For Jocelyn, the first accusations came from her stepfather, after drinking binges during which she was beaten and whipped with an electric cord for supposedly bringing illness and misfortune on the family.

After she was accused of being a witch, Jocelyn was thrown out of her home two years ago, eventually finding her way to Maison d'Hebergement des Enfants en Difficulte, a children's center located less than 20 miles outside of Kinshasa. There she lives among more than a hundred accused child-witches. A small but dedicated staff of volunteers struggles to feed and clothe the youngsters on a minuscule budget, the money coming from some churches and private donations.

"They eat beans and rice every day -- that is all we can afford to give them," said Mbwemba Mawete, a trained nurse and the only medical professional on the staff. "Their health is not good; some of the younger ones have malnutrition. But at least they are safe."

Jeff Mobinda, 13, came to Kinshasa with his father after escaping the fighting in eastern Congo. But when his father -- now an army officer -- remarried four years ago, his new stepmother refused to look after Jeff, threatened to poison him and accused him of witchcraft. With no other family in Kinshasa, the boy was brought to the center by his father.

"My stepmother didn't want to bother with me," Jeff said. "I don't hate for her what she did. It is not for me to punish her -- that is for God to decide."

Richard Hoskins, “Torment of Africa's 'child witches,'” Sunday Times, 5 Feb. 2005.

LONDRES was like any other 12-year-old black child in London — the city that gave him his nickname. He lived in Tottenham with his mother, a single parent. He was passionate about football and especially Manchester United’s charismatic winger Cristiano Ronaldo. One of his most prized possessions was his red Man U shirt.

He was cheeky and streetwise and had an irrepressible sense of humour. He got into trouble and messed up at school a bit. He could sometimes be a trial to his mother.

He was also a witch. At least that was what his mother decided early last year. So she told Londres that she was taking him on a special holiday. He thought that he was going to the Swiss Alps — he had never seen real fairyland snow. But the flight did not go to Switzerland. Instead it ended at Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his mother’s family still lived.

Frightened and confused, Londres was taken straight from the airport to a church centre in the poverty-stricken suburbs of that chaotic city to await exorcism.

I first heard about him last April. I lecture in African and African-derived religions at King’s College London, and I often work with the police on cases involving ritual crime. I was cultural adviser to the Metropolitan police in the case of Adam, the headless and limbless child who was found floating in the Thames in 2001.

I was also an expert witness in the trial of Sita Kisanga and her accomplices who had tortured an eight-year-old girl from east London known as Child B. She, too, “had” witchcraft — kindoki in Lingala, the Congolese language.

Kisanga, the child’s aunt, believed the girl needed to have the kindoki driven out of her by beatings, threats and systematic abuse in the name of Christianity. Chilli peppers were rubbed in her eyes. She was cut, starved, tied up in a sack and threatened with drowning. Kisanga went to jail for 10 years and her co-accused for shorter sentences.

Kisanga agreed to let me interview her in prison and insisted that it was her north London church — Combat Spirituel — that had “diagnosed” kindoki in Child B, and that in “torturing” the girl, as the judge described it, she was only carrying out God’s will and that of the church.

Pastor Raph of Combat Spirituel vehemently denies this and says that neither aunt nor child had any real connection with his church.

A relative of Londres had seen me on television commenting on the Child B case. Over coffee in a north London cafe he told me about his fears for the boy.

I knew about the dark side of some Christian revivalist churches and the exorcisms carried out on west and central African children in London either by the churches or on their say-so. I had heard rumours that British children were being taken to Africa, particularly to Kinshasa, for exorcism, and I knew of at least one case where the child was snatched off a London street and taken unwillingly.

I knew better than most what exorcism Kinshasa-style could mean. In 2004 I had been approached by lawyers acting for a child in the care of a London council’s social services department. It was anxious not to offend anyone’s religious or cultural sensitivities. Would it be appropriate, its staff asked, for this child to be sent to Kinshasa to be exorcised and delivered of kindoki?

I travelled to Kinshasa and reported back on what happened in these “deliverance” ceremonies. I saw children starved for days — the churches call it fasting — intimidated, shaken and shouted at by pastors. I heard rumours of much, much worse — of children from Europe ending up on the streets and others beaten to death. Back in England I did not have much trouble advising the council that it would not be in the child’s interests to be sent back to this situation, no matter what the sensitivities involved.

When I heard about Londres, I decided to try to find him. I speak fluent Lingala, and I had lived in the Congo for six years in the 1990s and researched there a lot since. So in October of last year, with a film crew and the support of the BBC, I boarded a flight for Kinshasa.

I first contacted Remy Mafu, a highly respected child welfare officer who runs a centre for street kids in Kinshasa. That’s an impossible and heartbreaking mission. There are estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 homeless children on the streets of that lawless city, stealing, begging, selling anything they can find, including themselves. The true number is incalculable but this estimate is certainly conservative.

Many are Aids orphans. Others are the children of Congo’s desperate civil war, which has killed 4m people since the late 1990s. But a shockingly high proportion of these children, Mafu told me, are on the streets because of the mushrooming influence of the new revivalist churches.

Still more children are not on the streets but are held virtual prisoner in church compounds, apparently awaiting exorcism. Congo’s social affairs minister, Bernard Ndjunga, has estimated these might number as many as 50,000 too.

“If the churches say the kids have kindoki they become outcasts from their families,” Mafu told me. “And the churches say it because it increases their own power over the people. They can also make a lot of money out of it.” The children are released to their parents only after payment of what may be substantial dues.

Mafu estimated that there are hundreds of such churches around Kinshasa. Many of them have sprung up in the past three or four years. Some of the churches and the pastors who run them have become very rich indeed.

Among the biggest and most influential of these revivalist churches, with about 50,000 adherents in Kinshasa alone, is Combat Spirituel, which Child B and her family had attended in London. It did not take me long to discover that Londres’s mother had also attended Combat Spirituel in London, and it was to the church centre in Kinshasa that the boy had been taken as soon as his plane touched down.

I had been given an address for one of Londres’s uncles. It was in one of the most deprived and dangerous areas of Kinshasa, a place of open sewers and wrecked cars. On my first attempt to go there, people at the house drew down a veil of silence. They had never heard of any such boy. There were no children living there. We were wasting our time.

I went from church centre to church centre, seeing evidence of exorcisms. I saw children cut with razors, stamped on, beaten, shouted at and forced to drink pigeons’ blood. Chillingly, I was often given open and unfettered access to these scenes by pastors and practitioners who plainly believed that what they were doing was in the name of God and thus could do no harm to the children.

Driving around the backstreets of Kinshasa is risky at any time and doubly so with a camera. At the funeral of a street kid, the crowd turned on me and my companions. We barely escaped with our lives.

A tip-off led me back to the uncle’s house. I sent in a Congolese helper to ask discreet questions first. Yes, he reported back, Londres had been there but nobody knew where he was now.

When I went to ask for myself, I suddenly heard a child speaking behind me. I turned round and there Londres was, as astounded and relieved as I was to hear an English voice.

He was nervous and kept glancing around as people shambled home from whatever mean work they could find, kicking up the dust as they came past.

He said that his mother had brought him to Kinshasa against his will. He confirmed, too, that he had been taken to a Combat Spirituel centre in Kinshasa, where he had been held for a month, and that his mother had attended Combat Spirituel in London with him.

I got permission from his minders to take him the following day to a club, where he had a huge meal and ate ice-cream by the bucketful.

“I want to go home. I miss London so much,” he told me. “To get rid of my kindoki they starved me, a week on and a week off, for a month. I was frightened. They wanted me to confess I had it, but I didn’t even know what kindoki was. How could I confess?”

Before leaving the Congo I saw the minister for children's affairs, a striking woman called Solange Ghonda who has been appointed directly by President Joseph Kabila. She knew about the situation in some of the revivalist churches in Kinshasa and was outraged by it.

“Can you imagine beating up a child in a church and everyone thinking that’s normal?” she cried. “I respect people’s beliefs but I will not let people abuse kids in the name of God.”

It is hard to know quite what she can do about it on the larger scale. But as far as Londres is concerned, at least, she has been able to act.

I now speak to him on the telephone regularly, via Mafu’s office in Kinshasa. He says he is desperately lonely. Just before Christmas he asked me if I would buy him a Christmas present: the first time he had ever asked me for anything. But how do you buy a present 10 days before Christmas for a child who is living in Kinshasa? I felt awful. He remains in a strange and dangerous city, separated from his friends and all that has become familiar to him.

His mother has returned to the Congo and believes that she needs to put him through another exorcism, according to Mafu, although when I spoke to her before she left, she denied that Londres had ever been accused of having kindoki.

“These people in Kinshasa,” she said, “they’re not very bright. They say the first thing that pops into their heads.”

She has been staying at Combat Spirituel in Kinshasa. Back in England I asked Pastor Raph about the matter. He denied that the church had any involvement with the Londres case.

When I confronted him with my knowledge of the life of the church and its belief in exorcism and what this entailed, he immediately stopped the interview.

Mr Molobo, president of Combat Spirituel in Kinshasa, believes that witchcraft is clearly attested in the Bible, but he insists that it is completely against the doctrine of the church to harm children in any way or to force them to undergo deliverance ceremonies.

That view was repeated to me by one official after another of Combat Spirituel, including its founders and global leaders, Mama and Papa Olangi, with whom I gained an exclusive interview.

Child exorcism in the name of Jesus has as little to do with mainstream Christianity as suicide bombers have with mainstream Islam. Nor has it anything to do with traditional African beliefs. Out in the villages of the Congo I found headmen and traditional healers horrified at what was happening in the name of the revivalist churches in Kinshasa. Traditional Congolese society rejects these exorcism practices.

“We believe in kindoki,” one told me, “but it’s something that merely troubles a person from time to time and hardly ever affects children. It can be treated with potions made from plants and herbs. It’s not a question of beatings and deliverance. We think the churches put about this kindoki idea because it increases their influence. The whole thing is a racket.”

The phenomenon appears to spring from a new Frankenstein religion, an unholy marriage of perverted Christianity and an ingrained African belief in the spirit world, fuelled by the grinding poverty and desperate need of the people of west and central African cities.

The family is the glue that holds African society together. If that bond weakens and breaks, chaos takes over. Whatever the reasons for it, the fact that children are suffering in the name of Christianity — not only beyond the horizon, but even in our own back yard — is undeniable and absolutely unacceptable.

Richard Hoskins’s investigation will be broadcast on BBC Two in the spring

Mark Dummet, “DR Congo’s Unhappy Child ‘Witches,’” BBC News, 17 January 2003.

At a church in Kinshasa the children sat glassy eyed and nervous as they waited to be exorcised by the priest.

One by one they stood up and explained how they became witches, were kicked out of their homes and ended up at the church.

Nzuzi, an eight-year-old with a sad face, said she was tricked by some class mates.

"They gave me some bread at school. It was poisoned and they came to get it back later."

Nzuzi said that when her family slept, she would sneak out to join her friends to fly in the night sky.

When they found out, she joined the growing ranks of children abandoned by their parents in Kinshasa, and accused of witchcraft.

The children rights organisation, Save the Children, estimates that there are more than 20,000 of them.

'New problem'

Although the belief in sorcery is traditional in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as elsewhere in Africa, many people are concerned that children never used to be blamed in such huge numbers.

"It is a new problem, because when we grew up we never saw this problem of children accused of sorcery. It is only since life became bad," said Ange Bay Bay, a children's rights lawyer.

When something goes wrong in a family the children are often blamed, she said.

So a child can be accused of sorcery when death, an illness or sudden unemployment strikes the home.

As Kinshasa's economy and infrastructure collapsed in the last decade, as a result of government corruption and war, so the number of children accused of witchcraft exploded.

"Parents who don't work or who lose their jobs because of the economic situation are looking for a scapegoat," Mrs Bay Bay said.

Nabor, for example, who now lives in a home supported by Ange Bay Bay, was blamed, along with his brothers, for the death of his father.

"My dad was ill, he had tuberculosis. And when he died, we were chased away from the house because we were accused of having eaten him," he said.

Song for change

Many of the children suffer appalling treatment from their families and in the churches where they are forced to undergo sometimes painful exorcisms, Mrs Bay Bay explained.

"There are children who are ironed with a clothes iron, there are others who are not given food for a whole week - there are these unbelievable things going on," she said.

A group of former street kids turned musicians are now trying to do something about the situation.

Their band, called La Chytoura, backed by a Unites States NGO Centre Lokole, has released a song and a video to change people's attitudes.

It tells the story of one young boy who is blamed by his parents for his father's unemployment.

When he accidentally kicks over a cooking pot, he is accused of sorcery and thrown onto the streets.

The song, of course, has a happy ending, and the band members hope its story line and catchy rhythm will have an impact on Kinshasa's music-loving and TV-watching public.

"We want to educate the whole world that what is going on in our country is not good," singer Romain Mazamba said.

Trying to eke out an existence in the midst of all the squalor, violence, and poverty of Kinshasa, the war-torn capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), live approximately 40,000 Congolese street children. They are not there due to the war; they are there because of their parents. The latest horror that the Congolese people have gotten into is that they are accusing their children of being witches and either killing them or casting them out into the streets. This has gotten so prevalent that according to UNICEF and the UN there are anywhere between 15,000 to 40,000 children, mostly between the ages of 3 and 13, living on the streets of Kinshasa.

Now this is an approximation, since the DRC exists in a Land of the Approximate. Nobody really knows the true number, and God only knows what goes on in the rural areas or the completely anarchistic eastern part of the country. The street children do not stand out among other Congolese because of their suffering. Except for the few strongmen at the top, everybody suffers in the Congo. It is the children's age and the fact that it was their own parents who put them in this bind which sets them apart. Human beings have always taken pleasure in abusing each other; but it is rare to see parents abuse their own children to such an extreme.

From the day they're accused of witchcraft, the children struggle to survive - parentless - in a country devoid of anything resembling the rule of law. Consequently, Congolese life is chock full of arbitrary adult cruelty and the children are not immune as targets. Additionally, since the average Congolese man on the street most certainly does believe in witches, these children can expect little if any help from the adult world. And that is about what they get. A special fear for all Congolese children is the cult "pastor". The pastor is a lethal combination of medicine man, high priest, and judge. They will approach families and offer to "cleanse" child witches for a fee. He also operates in the opposite direction, fingering a child as a witch, placing the child in immediate danger. Parents also seek out such men, looking for someone to give them support for the witchcraft accusations against their child or a cure for it.

In order to see one of these pastors at work, we traveled by jeep one hundred miles from the capital to the village of Kinsiona. There we were led by our translator to a rude structure constructed from branches and leaves. Inside, among a curious crowd, were a pastor, his two assistants, and four small child "witches". Upset at our presence (and being part of an outlawed cult) the pastor and his two assistants refused to give their names. Yet the head pastor allowed us to stay and take numerous pictures. So I doubt if given the chance he'd build much of a criminal empire. But he had brains and authority enough to have four small children on their knees before him awaiting his judgement.

The children (who had already been accused of witchcraft) knelt on the dirt floor in front of the pastor. He performed various rituals, what they were is of no importance. The fact that all involved believe that the children are in fact witches is of the utmost importance. The pastor also performed some rituals on the mother, such as placing his foot on her sexual organs to make sure that she would not bear anymore witches. While you might chortle over your breakfast at people believing such absurdity, make no mistake that many Congolese most certainly do believe it.

After all was said and done, the pastor claimed that "more work" (and hence more money) was needed to cleanse these witch children. The parents left with the children in tow. Being impoverished, they might very well decide to part with their children rather than their money. According to many reports, Congolese parents use the accusation of witchcraft as a pretext for ridding themselves of an extra mouth to feed. No doubt this is true. But no doubt it is also true that many do believe it. Either way, thus grows the ranks of Kinshasa's street children.

While in the capital, we used our contacts to be introduced to a gang of street children lead by Bigassa, a 25 year old man. He is a five year veteran of the streets and plays Fagan to about seventy or so Oliver Twists. Bigassa ordered one of the older children, a 16 year old street veteran dressed in an Iron Maiden tee-shirt, to perform escort and protection duties. The gangs of Kinshasa are not like the ones we see in America. No chest pounding macho names, color coded clothes, or days spent hanging on street corners for them. They are much poorer, to get food requires much time and effort. Some street children have odd jobs, but with the social stigma they live under it is not easy to find one. (Kinshasa's moribund economy is not creating many, anyhow.) A day without food is not unusual for these children. Many of the children are not near the same height or weight as American children of a similar age; mal-nutrition and disease (particularly malaria) are common. You do not see obese people in Kinshasa. Unlike America's gang children, who usually have at least a mother in their lives, these children are bereft of any discipline or parental authority at all. Consequently, by the time a street child hits 15 or 16 he is by all accounts irretrievably lost to a brutal code of violence. The older children are much feared, and with good reason. Within a week of our arrival four policemen, armed with AK-47s, were ambushed and massacred by a gang of children. They had ventured into the Cemetery of Gombe in Kinshasa's former European quarter. It is well known that at night the cemetery belongs to the child street gangs - one enters at great risk. The children have become a "social problem" far beyond the ability of the government to handle. If they even cared to, that is. Of all the fears that manifest themselves in Kinshasa, none beat the soldiers and police of "President" Joseph Kabila, the strongest of DRC's strongmen. Congolese have learned from an early age that you do not cross paths with the army. Whether power is in the hands of Belgium colonial masters or a home grown dictator, this has always held true. The street children are targeted by the occasional police sweep and dumped into Kinshasa's rancid prisons for a few days before being released. The police have a reputation for cruelty towards those that fall into their hands. Children are no exception.

The army continuously casts nets to round up the children for induction into the military. (The rebel forces do so, too, in the rural areas.) According to Amnesty International, "thousands" of DRC's children become soldiers in this manner. The children must be ever on the lookout for these roundups, which can fall on them at anytime. The girls are frequently used as sex slaves for the older soldiers, the boys as cannon fodder. Reports have some children volunteering for the army, hoping for food. Children from the local area do not venture far from the homes that they used to live in. With the social stigma of being a witch hanging over their head, though, home might as well be on another planet. It is in their past, irretrievable. They band together as much out of necessity as out of a need for companionship. It is much easier to survive as a group than as an individual. The gang is usually led by an older, more experienced child. With the societal breakdown brought on by the civil war, the cases of witch accusations have taken a corresponding upturn. The children have many companions to choose from.

There are female as well as male children. The females have an advantage - if you could call it that - in that they can sell their bodies. Child prostitution is common among them. Age does not seem to be a barrier to entry, girls as young as five are reported to be selling themselves for money.

Bigassa's gang escorted us throughout Kinshasa, allowing access to a part of their world. We saw them sleep upon the ground at night, bathe in filthy alleyways, and try to obtain food. The children displayed the wondrous curiosity innate to children everywhere. The children, especially the older ones, are prone to violence; they know of no other code. This trait does not make them stand out in a country like the DRC. Amigo Gonde of the local rights group Asadho recently said that, "there are many places in Kinshasa where street children are violently dealt with". Like all survivors in such a place, they must give as well as take. The children live day to day. Endless searches for food, avoiding government forces, and dealing with the social stigma of being a "witch" constitutes their existence. They dream no dreams of a better world, survival takes up all their time. As Nadine Giese (a local child activist) stated, "for them, the real struggle is just to live another day". And that's about all.

There are a few glimmers of hope for the children of Kinshasa's streets, one such comes from an organization centuries old - the Jesuits. It is the Center Monsieur Munzihirwa, located in Kinshasa's City area. Run-off of donations from the outside world (which, when you come to think of it, is pretty much how everything in the DRC runs) the staff of five provides fifty beds and fifty long shots. The staff caters to the street children of their locale, offering food, a bed, rudimentary education and, most importantly, a chance to go home. This is where we found Luzizila, a 13 year old boy.

He had been living on the streets for two years when the center found him, and had been living at CMM for a few months when we arrived. He had been thrown out of his home by his parents after they accused him of being a witch. Like all his cohorts, Luzizila was mal-nourished and had stomach aliments from eating poor quality food. Thoroughly acclimated to the streets by this time, he was still young enough to warrant CMM's gambling on the possibility of his re-entry into society and family. Once a street child reaches the age of sixteen, by all accounts they are lost to the street.

Due to the rigors of life on the streets, the older children are physically similar to American children five to six years younger. Though he was thirteen, if you saw Luzizila in your local shopping mall you would very likely guess him to be about eight. He does have a distinguishing feature to his benefit - he's cuddly cute to look at. Luzizila is a born poster boy for every NGO's donation brochure.

The children at the center, under the head of Father Bakwem, have a fixed daily schedule. All must attend class, all must perform chores, all must re-learn the habit of self-discipline they had lost in their time on the streets. The center, with a staff of five, is desperately trying to re-create one hundred missing parents. It's a long shot at best.

In addition to taking care of the children, the center also attempts to locate the actual parents - not an easy thing to do in a war torn nation. For Luzizila, it was not that difficult. He had not wandered far from his parent's house - in fact, he lived in the same area as they. Once a child's parents are located, the school invites them to classes where they try to convince them their belief in their children being witches is irrational and cruel. If it isn't enough to make the parents agree to take the child home, they also offer to pay for the child's schooling for one year.

Should the parents accept the child to return, the school will continue to monitor the home for one year to check up on the child. What happens after that is anyone's guess. There were no records of "success" rates, no idea on how many of these children wind up back on the streets. CMM's work is a mixture of much effort, earnest prayer, and blind hope.

Luzizila's parents agreed to take him back.

On the day Luzizila was to be re-integrated with his parents, he looked decidedly less than happy. The past two years had undoubtedly been a horror for the child, the Jesuit center no doubt seemed to him an oasis. Now he was to leave, and return to the very source of his troubles - home. His father was not there to greet him, his mother looked uneasy and ashamed. She seemed none to happy about having another mouth to feed again. According to Nadine Giese, who works at another such center for children, the parents "often use sorcery as a pretext to get rid of them".

Where Luzizila will be in a year - or where he is right now - is in microcosm the plight of the DRC. Cruelty, arbitrary rule, and irrationality are in abundance. Even should he be permitted to stay home this time, what chance for a future does he have in such a nation? (C.J. Maloney, “Child Witches: The Democratic Republic of the Congo,” The Full Monte: New World Media,, downloaded 3 October 2006.)

"Alarm at Liberian ritual killings," BBC News, 19 March 2004.

Women say the authorities are failing to take action

Hundreds of Liberian women have taken to the streets of the capital, Monrovia, protesting against a recent wave of ritual killings there. Bodies of children have been found with some of their organs missing, taken for what are viewed as magical properties.

The women, dressed in white, stormed the Justice Ministry demanding action against the killers.

Politicians and the wealthy are believed to pay for the murders to increase their chances of good fortune.

The police argue they have too few resources to deal effectively with crime.

Limited resources

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia says the local media has recently been dominated by reports of people chasing children at night and the discovery of bodies with some organs missing.

"Our children are the future of this country, and we want them to be safe because we want our future to be bright," said Henrietta Sumo, the women's spokesperson.


”Nigeria rescues more than 100 kids from traffickers,” New York Times, 7 Macrh 2005.

LAGOS, Mar 7 (Reuters) Nigerian police have rescued more than 100 children from child traffickers over the last three days, including 56 discovered at a checkpoint in a frozen food truck, authorities said today.

Thousands of children are trafficked every year across Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, where there is a strong tradition among families in impoverished, rural areas to send children to the cities in the hope of a better life.

Once there, many fall into the hands of criminal networks which sell them locally or abroad to work as beggars, slaves or prostitutes.

Police said they arrested a woman on Sunday after she was caught trying to take 56 children from Mokwa, a remote town in the central Niger state, to work as domestic servants in the commercial hub Lagos.

The children were crammed into a truck used for transporting frozen food, although the refrigeration was not switched on.

''The woman said she brought them with the consent of their parents to be distributed as house-helps in Lagos,'' police spokesman Ademola Adebayo said. ''We are transferring the case to the Criminal Investigation Department.'' The children were detained in a police station in the Ajegunle area of Lagos on Monday. A crowd of more than a hundred people, some apparently associates of the suspects, gathered at the gates, harassing journalists.

On Friday, 52 children from Togo were freed on Nigeria's western border with Benin by border police, authorities said.

Four traffickers, including a man who said he was a pastor at a pentecostal church, were arrested.

Arinze Orakwe, spokesman for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, said this group was probably destined for forced labour in Nigeria.

''We have quarries in Nigeria which are prone to (using) child labour from Benin and Togo,'' he said.

Almost all these children have already been turned over to the Togolese embassy in Nigeria, he added.

In 2003, 500 children from Benin were rescued from granite quarries in Nigeria and repatriated.

A government survey in 2003 estimated that there were 15 million children engaged in child labour in Nigeria, and 40 percent of them were at risk of being trafficked for domestic and forced labour, prostitution, entertainment, pornography, armed conflict and ritual killing.

Nigeria passed a ground-breaking law against human trafficking in 2003, but its law enforcement and judicial systems are unable to cope with a growing number of cases.

Allan Little, “Nigeria's 'respectable' slave trade,” BBC News, 17 April 2004.

"Trafficking in human beings" is a phrase guaranteed to cause a sharp intake of breath among listeners from the liberal and affluent and concerned West. The view of trafficking in Nigeria is somewhat different. In fact, it is seen as an everyday part of West African life.

It starts with the promise of a better life.

The parents are taken in. The children are persuaded. When they leave home they do so willingly, with some excitement, not trepidation.

The trafficker has promised a good job, a schooling, a regular income. But that is not how it works out.

One young woman told me she was promised regular work in the Nigerian countryside.

Discernible shame

She found herself transported overland through the north of Nigeria, to Mali, then to Algeria, then Morocco.

From there she was smuggled into Spain, at night, in a small boat, and from there, on forged papers, into Italy by train.

They took her to a house in Turin where she lived with other girls, some, but not all, Nigerian like her, and under the control of a madam, also Nigerian.

She was put to work as a prostitute, something she speaks of now with a discernible shame.

After seven months she had earned enough money to pay off what she owed the traffickers for taking her in the first place.

When that debt was paid, her trafficker shopped her to the Italian immigration authorities and she was repatriated, home to Benin City, Nigeria with nothing to show for her ordeal.

There was a second young woman with a similar story.

Not yet out of her teens, her traffickers took her to Verona where she worked as a prostitute.

She spoke without shame. She spoke with anger.

"Just when I had paid off my debt," she said. "Just when I was about to start working for myself, the police caught me."

This is the pattern. The traffickers do not want their working girls setting up on their own, taking custom away from their girls.

Turnover - in human traffic - is everything.

Oil rich cities

Unicef estimates that human trafficking is more lucrative than any other trade in West Africa except guns and drugs.

The streets of Nigeria are teeming with trafficked children.

Of the hundreds of thousands of street kids living rough in Nigeria's oil rich cities, perhaps 40% have been bought and sold at some time.

The girls most frequently sold into domestic service, or prostitution, the boys into labour in plantations, or to hawk fruit and vegetables for 12-hours a day in an open air market.

Some work as washers of feet.

In Nigeria children enter the labour market almost as soon as they can lift and carry.

We watched a skinny boy in a dust bowl of a quarry carrying stone blocks on his head ferrying them from where they were cut from the earth to where they were broken down into usable pieces for the construction industry.

He worked here alongside his heavily pregnant mother.

He earned 40p (70 US cents) a day, which his mother used to buy food for her five younger children.

The boy was nine-years-old and he had been working at the quarry since he was seven.

Unicef believe there are 15 million children working in exploitative labour in Nigeria.

It is a 21st century slave trade.

What is most striking is the tacit support that human trafficking enjoys at almost every level of society.

The Lagos middle class have a bountiful supply of house boys and house girls, brought from villages in the north by helpful aunts and uncles who pocket the cash and disappear.

No-one asks questions. No-one wants to know the answers.

For human trafficking is not something that happens on the criminal fringes of Nigerian society.

It is woven into the fabric of national life.

In Benin City, in the oil rich Edo state, east of Lagos, I met an articulate 15-year-old girl who said many of her friends had been trafficked.

"Their parents are involved," she said. "They say to the girls: 'Why don't you go with this man and work. We have no money, we have nothing to eat. You can send us money.' And so the girls go."

And that is the problem. That trafficking has the tacit collaboration of the victims' own families. That it is not seen as criminal activity at all but as a normal and even respectable way for a family of - say - seven or eight children to boost its meagre income.

Root cause

I have filmed for BBC television news in many countries of Africa over the last decade. But I have never had an Oscar winning Hollywood movie producer carry my tripod before.

David Puttnam - who made Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, The Killing Fields - knows a lot about trafficking.

As president of Unicef UK he has seen it across Asia as well as in Africa.

What frustrates him here, in Nigeria, more than the poverty that is its root cause, is the attitude that accompanies it.

"Half of you feels sympathy," he told me.

"But the other half wants just to shake the people here and say look - this is a large, wealthy, powerful country.

"Put the structures in place. Develop some determination. And this exploitation of children could be tackled and Nigeria could be a really successful nation".


Shakeel Ahmad, “Another Meerwala in Muzaffargarh,” Dawn, 24 Sept. 2006.

MULTAN, Sept 23: A twelve-year-old girl was stripped and made to stand in public in a village near Shehr Sultan, Muzaffargarh, by her neighbours to teach her a lesson for the sin she never committed.

The motive in this case is identical to that of Meerwala — the suspicion of girl’s brother having illicit relations with a woman of the rival group.

Though the area people, union council nazim and Muzaffargarh district nazim confirmed that such an incident had taken place in Mauza Kapahi Kharwala on Friday, police said the stripping issue had been concocted by the girl’s family in a bid to neutralize an FIR registered against them.

According to reports reaching here, Momina was alone in her house when four men from her neighbour Hazoor Bakhash’s family took her to their house and tore her clothes apart.

Hearing girl’s cries, villagers gathered in the courtyard of Hazoor Bakhsh’s house but no-one dared to save the girl who stood naked. When her brothers Ghulam Nazuk and Mureed Hussain came to her rescue, they were beaten by armed men from Hazoor’s family .

The accused freed the girl after two hours when Kalu Khan, an elder of the Hazoor Bakhash tribe, told them that the “revenge was over.”

When Momina’s brothers visited Shaher Sultan police station, police pressed them to settle the matter at the village level. On their refusal police allegedly arrested them in a case lodged against them by a woman of the Hazoor Bukhash family.

SHO Qamarul Zaman told Dawn that story of Momina’s stripping by force had been concocted. He said that both the families had settled the matter and that a case lodged by Shamshad was also being withdrawn

Neverthless, he said, police were investigating the case and if the `humiliation’ of Momina was found to be true, he would not spare the guilty.

Allah Bakhsh, the father of the girl, said that police were pressing them to reconcile.

Abdul Qayyom Jatoi, Muzaffargarh district Nazim, said that police did register a case of trespassing against the accused when he visited the village on Saturday.

Jatoi said although he was the boss of district police (being the district nazim), he was not sure police would do any justice on his order. Elected from the ARD support, Jatoi said his close political companions were already facing police wrath on the direction of the Punjab chief minister.

Malik Jindwada, Beerbund union council nazim, said he had visited the village, that also fell in his electoral college, and talked to people who confirmed stripping of Momina before public.


Human Rights Watch, Togo. Borderline Slavery. Child Trafficking in Togo. April 2003.

I made an appointment with the man to meet at Balanka, at night. It was January 2001. There were many other kids there-more than 300 of us in one truck, packed like dead bodies.

-Dovène A.,1 trafficked from Togo to Nigeria when he was seventeen

The above testimony from a Togolese child depicts a brief moment in the long and terrifying ordeal of child trafficking. Child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child for the purposes of sexual or labor exploitation, forced labor, or slavery. It is a human rights tragedy estimated to involve thousands of children in West Africa and over a million children worldwide. This report documents the trafficking of children in Togo, in particular the trafficking of girls into domestic and market work and the trafficking of boys into agricultural work. Hundreds of children are trafficked annually in Togo, either sent from, received in or transited through the country. They are recruited on false promises of education, professional training and paid employment; transported within and across national borders under sometimes life-threatening conditions; ordered into hazardous, exploitative labor; subjected to physical and mental abuse by their employers; and, if they escape or are released, denied the protections necessary to reintegrate them into society. Their stories disclose an appalling chain of events that the Togolese government has thus far failed to break.

West Africa's Trade in Children

Togo's trade in children is illustrative of a larger, regional phenomenon involving at least thirteen West African countries. Based on the testimony of children and local experts, Human Rights Watch documented four routes of child trafficking into, out of, or within Togo: (1) the trafficking of Togolese girls into domestic and market labor in Gabon, Benin, Nigeria, and Niger; (2) the trafficking of girls from within Togo to other parts of the country, especially the capital, Lomé; (3) the trafficking of girls from Benin, Nigeria, and Ghana to Lomé; and (4) the trafficking of boys into labor exploitation, usually agricultural work, in Nigeria, Benin, and Côte d'Ivoire.

Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch came predominantly from poor, agricultural backgrounds and had generally little schooling before being trafficked. Most were promised that by going abroad they would gain some formal or vocational education, which they could then use to earn money for themselves or their families. In numerous cases, children were recruited by traffickers after running out of money to pay for school; despite a statutory guarantee of free primary education in Togo, school fees range from 4,000 to 13,000 CFA francs2 (U.S.$6-$20) per year. Many of the children interviewed were trafficked following the death of at least one parent. Others had parents who were divorced, or at least one parent living and working away from home. A growing cause of orphanhood in Togo, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was identified by some experts as a possible factor in susceptibility to child trafficking.

Togo's Trafficked Girls

Girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch were typically recruited into domestic or market labor either directly by an employer or by a third-party intermediary. Most recalled some degree of family involvement in the transaction, such as parents accepting money from traffickers, distant relatives paying intermediaries to find work abroad, or parents handing over their children based on the promise of education, professional training or paid work. Following their recruitment, girls' journey away from home in many cases involved an intermediate stop where they could be left to fend for themselves for weeks or months at a time, before being transported to a country or city of destination by car or by boat. Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of girls taking boats from Nigeria to Gabon, a perilous and sometimes fatal journey. In one case, a boat capsized off the coast of Cameroon and nine girls died.

On arrival, girls were deposited in the homes of employers where they performed long hours of domestic and market work. From as early as 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., children tended gardens, transported and sold market goods and baked bread. At night, they worked as housemaids, prepared food and cared for small children. Human Rights Watch documented astonishing cases of girls as young as three or four years old being forced to carry infants or sell merchandise. Almost no girl received any remuneration for her services. Many recounted incidents of physical and emotional abuse, often leading them to escape and live in the street. Officials from the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Terre des Hommes told Human Rights Watch they had interviewed numerous trafficked girls who experienced sexual abuse in the home, and that some had tested positive for HIV. One child told Human Rights Watch she was forced to sleep in the same bedroom as a male boarder and was "afraid he would rape me."

Togo's Trafficked Boys

Boys interviewed by Human Rights Watch were for the most part recruited into agricultural labor in southwestern Nigeria. A small number worked on cotton fields in Benin, and one child was recruited into factory work in Côte d'Ivoire. Traffickers tended less to make arrangements with boys' parents than to make direct overtures to the boys themselves-tempting them with the promise of a bicycle, a radio, or vocational training abroad. Contrary to expectation, they were taken on long, sometimes perilous journeys to rural Nigeria and ruthlessly exploited. Most were given short-term assignments on farms where they worked long hours in the fields, seven days a week. "When we were finished with one job, they would find us another one," one child told Human Rights Watch.

Boys worked from as early as 5:00 a.m. until late at night, sometimes with hazardous equipment such as saws or machetes. Some described conditions of bonded labor, whereby their trafficker would pay for their journey to Nigeria and order them to work off the debt. Many recalled that taking time off for sickness or injury would lead to longer working hours or corporal punishment.


The Global Persecution of Women