Even after Togo criminalised child trafficking in 2005, every year thousands of children leave the country undetected under precarious conditions, according to the government.
The government’s National Commission for the Reception and Reinsertion of Trafficked Children, set up in 2002, reported about 500 children rescued per year from neighbouring countries as victims of trafficking in 2007 and 2008. Before the law’s passage, the commission reported on average more than 800 repatriated children each year from 2002 to 2004.
The anti-trafficking law has decreased the number of child migrants, but the numbers do not tell the entire story, said commission secretary Marceline Galley Abgessi Koda. “We have no standard data collection for children intercepted and turned back at the border…We estimate 10 times more children being led out than what we are recording.”
Human rights organisations estimate hundreds of thousands of children are still recruited or transported within and outside of Togo annually, sometimes through force and false promises.
The government commission does not track children trafficked within Togo.
Gaps in law
Border police have been trained to enforce the law, said Koda. But representatives from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and CARE International in Togo said border officials are turning back unaccompanied children who are simply trying to cross the border of their own will and who are not victims of trafficking.
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CARE’s director in Togo, Phillipe Kodko Yodo, said the 2005 law has not defined rules for when unaccompanied children can leave the country. “The law does not specify what paperwork is needed, so border officials indiscriminately turn back children.”
The 2005 law states that a child not accompanied by a biological parent or a guardian must have a “special authorisation whose parameters will be set by a Council of Ministers decree.” CARE’s Yodo said that as of 12 January, he knew of no such decree under discussion by the government.
Children who are migrating in order to work are often incorrectly lumped in with trafficking victims, said Lawunmi Ogunleye, a deputy director of the non-profit Terre des Hommes in Nigeria. “The children who come to work in the [stone] quarries [of] Abeokuta, Nigeria do so for economic purposes and most of the time it is a voluntary movement. They come through people who are known to them – their brother, uncle, cousin [and] neighbours.”
The organisation’s regional advisor in West Africa, Olivier Feneyrol, told IRIN as long as working conditions are relatively better outside of Togo than within, child migration will continue regardless of laws.
Togo’s government signed an agreement in 1996 with Ghana, Benin and Nigeria to repatriate children found working in a neighbouring country.
Nevertheless, markets in Benin, cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, farms in Nigeria, and households in the capital Lomé continue to be among the most commonly reported places that take Togo’s youngest workers, according to children interviewed by NGOs upon their return to Togo.
Inoussa Bouberi from the central Togo village of Yelivo told IRIN he recruited children to work overseas for 17 years, stopping in 2004. “I wasn’t paid regularly. People think we stole from the kids, but we were swindled. I regret it now. The children who stayed behind and learned a useful trade are better off.”
More on Bouberi’s years trafficking, click here.
Since 2002 more than 400 human-traffickers have been convicted in West Africa, including about 20 in Togo, according to a forthcoming UN report on trafficking in the region.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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