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Swiss charity says slave ship children were being trafficked

Destined for slavery: a child rescued from the Etireno Keystone

The Swiss charity, Terre des Hommes, has confirmed that 23 children it has been caring for in Benin since they were taken from the cargo ship, Etireno, two weeks ago were the victims of illegal trafficking.

Local delegates of the Lausanne-based Terre des Hommes Foundation took charge of 16 girls and seven boys at the request of the Benin authorities. The children, who came from Benin, Togo and Mali, were aged between three and 14 years.

“Although the statements of children are often uncertain and sometimes contradictory, it nonetheless clearly emerges that for the majority of them, the description of child trafficking is confirmed,” the group said in a statement.

It added that some children spoke of financial transactions before their departure. Those who were old enough to understand what was happening to them said they were going to Gabon to work, it said.

Terre des Hommes confirmed that only one child taken off the Etireno had been reclaimed by an accompanying adult. It said the conditions on board the ship “resembled imprisonment”.

“Terre des Hommes will do all in its power to restitute these children to their families [and] home communities,” the statement said.

As well as the 23 children being cared for by the charity, a further 17 boys aged between 14 and 18 had been taken in by the SOS Children’s Village organisation.

The United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, estimates that at least 200,000 children, often from poorest countries, are trafficked every year in West and Central Africa. Many end up working on the coffee and cocoa plantations of Ivory Coast and Gabon. Others work in sweatshops, or as domestic servants and prostitutes.

It is often the poorest families that are targeted. They are duped into believing the children are being taken away to receive an education or to get a well-paid job.

In its statement, the Terre des Hommes Foundation, the largest Swiss children’s aid organisation operating outside Switzerland, said it was “determined to intensify its action against all forms of child trafficking to assist police and judicial authorities to pursue and convict those responsible”.

by Roy Probert

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