from being consigned to the history books, slavery is alive and
flourishing in many parts of the world, and in Africa in particular.
The extreme poverty of several
African countries is leading to the resurgence of slavery. During
the height of the slave trade run by African kingdoms and the
European powers from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the merchandise
in highest demand was adult males. Today, although adult slaves
are found -for example Malians on Côte d´Ivoire´s
cocoa plantations- it is the children who are the
most sought after both for commercial work and sexual exploitation in West Africa
´the slave coast´ to the Europeans in the 17th century).
Until recently, the practice was thought to be largely exclusive
to war-torn countries such as Angola, Sudan, Somalia and Chad
-where girls as young as 10 years old served as slaves and concubines
in rebel military camps. Today, even in relatively peaceful regions,
slave trafficking is on the rise. Though their governments officially
oppose this trade in humans, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte
d'Ivoire, Gabon, Nigeria and Togo are the countries where it
is increasing. In West Africa, the responsibility for educating children has
traditionally rested with the extended family, which is an expression
of community solidarity. But the increasing need for paid work
is eroding the values of communities that once upon a time protected
children from abuse.
Intermediaries crisscross between neighboring Benin and
Togo, preying on the children of poor rural
families. In some cases, they just wait outside their houses
and kidnap them; at other times, traffickers pick up children
who have traveled to urban areas in search of food. But much
of the time, they can easily persuade the parents to surrender
their offspring by telling them that the children will receive
training or a good education if they go to work for a wealthy
family. They also
tend to sweeten the inducement with a small sum of cash (which is usually less
than $15 and rarely more than $30).
The traffickers have to cover expenses -including food for the
children during the journey and bribes to ensure the cooperation
of the border guards. They recover their investment by exploiting
the new slaves who, to pay off this debt in their new country, usually by working
long hours for which they receive no money. They end up utterly
dependent on the traffickers or whoever has bought them.
girls from Benin and Togo are highly prized by rich families
in Lagos, Nigeria or in Libreville, Gabon. But many of the girls
travel much greater distances, for example to Bangui in the Central
African Republic -an extremely poor country- or to Cameroon.
Another major supplier of child slaves is Mali. Here they are
taken from their homes in rural areas and put to work on
plantations. Salia Kante, director of Save the Children in Mali,
said that Those who drink cocoa or coffee are drinking
their blood, the blood of children who are not yet 10 years old.
The declining price of coffee and chocolate over the last decade
and the deregulation
of the market
have created hardship for the peasant farmers in West Africa.
This has stimulated the new slave workforce; employers do not
wages to the adults either. Big multinationals have not lifted
a finger to end the trade in child slaves.
Studies show that more than 30 children are brought across the
border between Benin and Nigeria as slaves every two months.
Some 95 per cent are girls, 50 per cent are under 15, and 45
per cent have never attended school. In Lagos and in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire), child slave
markets have flourished. Traffickers occasionally take their
merchandise for sale in Europe, traveling under the pretext that
the boys are going to take part in sports tournaments or, as happened in one case,
that the children were going to participate in an audience with
In West African societies traditional
community practises appear to have given way to others that are
just as old. Today, as in the 15th to 19th centuries, the slave
ships usually anchor in Cotonou, Benin. Some Africans continue
hunting down others to sell them. In the past, some of the women and children
were not put on the transatlantic ships, but were kept for the
domestic market. Nowadays, although there is a global demand for the raw
materials produced by adult slaves, there is no explicit demand
for them; children have taken their place on the African market.
*Published in The World Guide