/** labr.global: 281.0 **/
** Topic: Child Slave Labr Growing In Africa **
** Written 9:39 PM Aug 11, 1997 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <firstname.lastname@example.org>
August 10, 1997 New York Times
Child Slave Trade in Africa Highlighted by Arrests
[L] AGOS, Nigeria -- Three recent arrests have cast a spotlight on what authorities say is a growing slave trade in children in this region of West Africa.
In neighboring Benin, police said that in July they had rescued more than 100 children who were being transported to Nigeria, on their way to central Africa to be sold.
Police in Porto-Novo, Benin's capital, said they had been alerted that three men were trying to find buses to take a group of 90 children to Lagos, Nigeria's main port city. They said they had arrested the three men, two of them from Benin and one from Nigeria.
A few days earlier, Benin's government-owned daily newspaper, La Nation, reported that a group of 42 children had been rescued by police in similar circumstances in another Benin city, Cotonou.
Trading in children is a common practice in both Benin and Nigeria.
There are frequent reports in Nigeria of boatloads of children being stopped along the country's long coastline on their way to central Africa, though there is little information about what their fate is when they arrive. Child welfare organizations have documented that some of these children end up in Nigerian households as unpaid laborers known as "house helps."
The child welfare groups believe well-organized criminal rings are involved.
Abdul Mohammed, who runs the Child Welfare League of Nigeria, said that well-dressed traders travel to poor rural areas in Benin and offer parents money, from $20 to $40, in exchange for their children, promising that the ones they take away will end up rich and successful.
"These people who go to the villages are seen as affluent people, so they easily convince the villagers that the child will be better off if they go with them," he said. "The parents pray that their children will be better off and have no idea that the visitors have evil intentions." The children, as young as 8, are forced to work without pay as cleaners or traders, and some are forced to work as prostitutes. They are often poorly fed, abused and made to work long hours.
Mohammed has a photograph album with pictures of some of the children his group has rescued from the homes of their owners and, in the case of those who have run away, from the streets. One photo showed a girl with a scar left by a severe burn down her back. The girl told him, he said, that hot oil had been poured on her as punishment.
"Sometimes it is quite disturbing," he said. "We have had cases of children being made to sleep next to the toilet every night. Some are sent out on the streets as prostitutes."
He cited the case of a 13-year-old girl named Chizoba, who was a house servant in Lagos. Her owner would tie her down to keep her from running away.
"I asked the woman if she would tie her own child down like that," Mohammed said, "and she couldn't answer."
In another case, a 9-year-old girl named Kasarachi served a family with four children. She started her day at dawn, she said, by sweeping the house and washing the dishes before the children woke up. When they awakened, she would help them get ready for school.
Her next duty was to finish cleaning the house and then to tend the mother's market stall until the children returned from school.
Kasarachi would help the children undress and bathe and wash their clothes. When the mother came back from the market, the child would wash the woman's clothes too. The servant's day usually ended at 1 a.m.
The worst thing, she said, was not the long hours but that she was treated differently from the other children. They would eat two meals a day but she was allowed only one.
"I would work late, but the woman would beat me every day," she said. "Then her children would laugh and hit me too," she added, sobbing. Many educated Nigerians tolerate and perpetuate the practice of using small children as unpaid workers and some justify it by saying that the children are better off with them than they would be in their villages.