Friday, February 08, 2008

Human Trafficking: Guinea " Sometimes parts of children are used as sacrificial offerings for ceremonies"

Child trafficking is on the rise in Guinea because families are unable to care of their children. Lack of family planning, poverty and AIDS are all to blame

After the sun sets on the streets of the Guinean capital, Conakry, children drift by darkened storefronts and settle into nooks between buildings, curling up to sleep on the pavement.

Residents in the city told IRIN they had noticed more and more children living on the streets in recent years - children like orphans Abubakar and Alya who have been on the street together for one year.

"We sleep together, we eat together, we do everything together," Abubakar said.

They both said they were 13, but Alya is very small and Abubakar laughs when he says his age. The boys said they walked the streets at night looking through rubbish to see if someone had thrown away something they could eat.

"We are very afraid to stay here,” Abubakar said. “But we have nowhere else to go."

Both the boy’s parents are dead. Alya said he stayed with his grandmother until the beatings got too bad and he ran away.


Manimam Condé, who coordinates between the Guinean government and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Forecariah (city in southern Guinea), said unwanted children had reason to be afraid: Traffickers solicited children’s parents and guardians, promising to give them a better life but actually putting them to work - or worse.

"Some children are sold and others are put directly to work - sent to work on plantations, or to sell things [carrying them] on their heads in markets,” she told IRIN

“You also have sales of organs and body parts for medical uses. Sometimes parts of the children are used as sacrificial offerings for ceremonies."

According to the Conakry-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Action Contre l'Exploitation des Enfants et des Femmes (ACEEF - Action Against the Exploitation of Children and Women), tens of thousands of unwanted children like these in Guinea are being forced to work in slave-like conditions.

At the least abusive end of the spectrum, when parents find themselves unable to afford to raise a child, they often give them to someone who shares their last name.

At the home of their new guardians, commonly referred to as “tutors”, many children work as unpaid domestic servants or in other labour intensive jobs, according to anti-trafficking experts.

At worst, and all too often, the children run away because of abuse or are sold to people who promise to give them a new, better life, but are forced into hard labour.

Polygamy exacerbating abandonment

Condé said child abandonment in Guinea is being exacerbated by polygamy and a lack of access for many to family planning materials, resulting in parents having far more children than they can afford.

Deaths from diseases including HIV/AIDS are also adding to the number of children in Guinea who are left without parents. AIDS orphans are placed with host families who are often already poor and may have difficulty absorbing the economic burden of another child.

Seven-year-old Fatimata Soumah, now singing songs in a classroom filled with dozens of other children who have been abandoned by their parents, was among the lucky ones.

For sale abroad

Police intercepted Fatimata with her older cousin, whom police said was taking the girl to neighbouring Sierra Leone to sell her for money.

Authorities located Fatimata's parents, but they signed a letter asking a centre for abandoned children, Foyer de l'Espérance in the southern Guinea city of Forecariah, to keep her.

“I don’t know why someone would want to sell me,” said Fatimata, holding her baby doll.

Other children are shipped around the continent and sometimes to Europe and beyond to work as housekeepers, prostitutes and manual labourers.

Raphael Cekui Tea, head of the centre where Fatimata ended up, told IRIN there were so many children being abandoned or rescued from traffickers just in his district that he no longer had enough space to house them all.

"Because of the poverty in some families, I believe that can push some people to sell their children to make some money. In Africa that shouldn't have to happen because we live in communal societies, and when things are difficult you should be able to go to the neighbours and see what they can do to help you," Tea said.

Government officials and child protection workers said while Forecariah is one of the most affected areas in the country, children are being abandoned or sold throughout Guinea.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

Photo: Copyright