Sunday, July 26, 2009

Combatting Child Trafficking in Benin

Nikki recently hosted Unseen Stories, an American NGO currently working on a couple film projects aimed at stemming the problem of child trafficking in Benin.

Illegal child trafficking is one of Benin's more serious long-running human rights abuses. Although since 2006 there have been laws in the books abolishing child exploitation and illegal displacement, the problem perseveres due to the many factors fueling the phenomenon, especially economically poor and vulnerable households, insufficient rural knowledge of the problem and the law, ineffective law enforcement, and cultural traditions in which certain forms of child displacement and work/study arrangements (both good and bad) have long-been practiced.

Local NGOs working on the problem estimate that hundreds of trafficked children are either sourced from, trafficked through, and/or end up being exploited in Benin. The region surrounding Nikki is particularly vulnerable, due to the district's proximity to the Nigerian border and because of the large, rural, poor, and uneducated populations.

In Nikki the trafficking scenarios vary from case to case, but usually include some common elements. Usually a trafficker goes to a rural area and negotiates either with a family or the child himself, promising either money, goods, or an education in return to the child's labor for a given amount of time, after which it is presumed that the child will be freed of his obligations. Then the child is illegally displaced (usually snuck into) Nigeria, and put to work in an exploitative manner. Boys are often put to work in the fields or rock quarries, and girls end up as domestics, market vendors, or even prostitutes. Most of the time the children are either forcefully or effectively restrained from returning home, even after the end of their pre-agreed time of service.

While in Nikki, Unseen Stories' activities focused particularly on the problem of poor public education. The NGO had put together an animation telling in French the stories of two Beninese trafficked children, and over four days we played the film in six of Nikki's most vulnerable villages. Following each screening was a discussion of the film. Leading these discussions and serving as our local expert on the problem was a development worker from the Beninese NGO APEM. For the last two years our animatrice has been working against the issue of child trafficking with a UNICEF-financed project, and has to date educated thousands of Nikki residents, installed over 60 community vigilance communities, and assisted in the reception and recuperation of trafficked children. Protecting children has trully become a passion for her, and her tireless work that goes beyond the normal call of duty proves that. Our sub-project couldn't have been a success without her.

Our Animatrice.

Unseen Stories also held dozens of similar screenings in communities across Benin. The other major element of their project is ostensibly in its final stages: the realization of a feature-length documentary on child's trafficking in Benin. Once finished this fall, it is set to be screened in film festivals, universities, churches, and other venues across America in order to raise awareness and support for the issue. You can see a trailer from this documentary and track the work of Unseen Stories' at their website.

Unseen Stories Northern Benin Team in one Nikki village.