Benin border cops rescue children from smugglers

Border police in the West African country of Benin have rescued 14 boys and a girl who were being smuggled into neighbouring Nigeria for work, a police officer said on Thursday.

The smuggler, who was also arrested, said the boys had been destined for labour in the Abeokuta quarries, just over the border, while the girl would have been employed as a domestic servant.

The officer said the smuggler has admitted taking 16 minors to Abeokuta in December.

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 Fund, they are handed over for a little as 20 000 CFA (about R180) to smugglers who promise to oversee their education.

Instead, the youngsters end up working in quarries and cocoa or sugar plantations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon or Côte d’Ivoire.

There are 6 000 trafficked Beninois in Nigeria alone, according to the Benin government.

In the course of a month, at the end of 2003 a total of 250 Beninois boys were repatriated from Abeokuta by Nigeria, but authorities in Conakry say about 2 000 are still employed there.

About 4 000 children are intercepted every year on Benin’s borders.—Sapa-AFP

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