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Charity gets tough with child traffickers

Over a million children are trafficked worldwide each year Keystone Archive

The Swiss charity, Terre des hommes, has called for tougher penalties against child traffickers and is urging the government to class the offence as a crime against humanity.

This content was published on October 22, 2003 - 18:59

The moves form part of an aggressive campaign launched by the charity exactly two years ago to bring the trade in children to international attention.

“More than a million children worldwide are trafficked each year,” declared Peter Brey, secretary-general of Terre des hommes.

The illegal trade involves minors – children under the age of 18 – being taken from their homes and sold into slavery, working as beggars, prostitutes and manual labourers.

Under the banner “a child is not a commodity”, Terre des hommes set out in October 2001 to eradicate child slavery, focusing on Africa and eastern Europe.

“I'd say that an extremely good start has been made,” Brey told swissinfo. “We have exceeded our targets… and have been very successful in showing that trafficking is not something that should be accepted in a globalised world, but that something generally can be done.”

Last December the charity was awarded France's 2002 Human Rights Prize for its work combating the trade in children between Albania and Greece.

Awareness campaigns in schools and close cooperation with authorities in both countries have helped to stem the flow of minors, according to Robert Stratoberdha, head of the charity’s project in Albania.

Tip of the iceberg

But Terre des hommes admits it has only scratched the surface of the problem in Africa.

“We can say that especially in West Africa the phenomenon is huge, and more children are exploited today,” said Yann Colliou, head of the charity’s emergency operations division.

“First, there is a lack of political concern, and then it's also a cultural problem because it's quite normal to send a child to another family in another country. It’s done on the understanding that their children will go to school, but in fact the children are exploited.”

Families of exploited children can expect to receive $80 (SFr105) a year after the first year of labour.

Colliou has just returned from Nigeria where there are thousands of minors – some as young as six – who are trafficked from neighbouring Benin.

“They extract sand and gravel from the ground, which is used for construction. They work up to 18 hours a day and their nutritional status is not good at all -they are in a very bad condition.”

Switzerland

The trafficking of children is not restricted to developing countries. Bernard Boëton, head of the charity's child rights department, said Switzerland was also caught up in the trade, both as a transit and destination country.

“Switzerland is at the geographical heart of Europe and is comparatively rich,” explained Boëton. “Many traffickers use minors to commit crimes like selling drugs, for which they know – if caught – the children will not go to prison.”

If the traffickers were to be caught for the same offence, they would go behind bars for ten to 15 years, he said.

Terre des hommes wants tougher laws to help ensure that Switzerland does not become a safe haven for those involved in the trade.

The organisation has just finished collecting more than 120,000 signatures for a petition urging the Swiss authorities to consider child slavery a crime against humanity.

The petition is due to be handed in to the government on November 20 – Universal Children’s Day.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

Key facts

More than a million children are trafficked each year worldwide.
The illegal trade involves children under the age of 18 being taken from their homes and sold into slavery.

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In brief

Terre des hommes wants tougher penalties for child trafficking.
It is asking the Swiss government to make child trafficking an offence against humanity.
Switzerland is a transit and destination country for child traffickers.

End of insertion

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