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14 Jul 2004 16:54
Border police in the west African country of Benin have rescued 27 children aged between six and 12 from traffickers as part of what one officer described as a new war against child smuggling.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Beninois youngsters were picked up as the traffickers attempted to cross into Togo at Hilacondji, 110km northwest of Benin’s capital, Cotonou.
Four adult Beninois suspects were arrested, he added.
“The minors, who were for the most part uneducated, were taken with their parents’ consent, in exchange for occasional payments from the traffickers,” the senior officer said.
“The time for building awareness of the problem is over. We are declaring war on these traffickers,” he added.
Benin, a small poverty-stricken country mainly dependent on small scale agriculture, has in recent years become a centre for large-scale exploitation of children, who are sold to gangs and sent to work abroad.
According to a report from the United Nations children’s agency Unicef, kids are handed over to smugglers who promise to oversee their education for as little as $37.
Instead, the youngsters end up working in quarries and cocoa or sugar plantations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon or the Ivory Coast.
According to the Benin government, there are 6 000 trafficked Beninois in Nigeria alone.—Sapa-AFP
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