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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
African slave ship: Did we get it wrong?

The African's slave ship which for days made headline news all over the world, docked without the 250 children on board.

A BBC correspondent said they were either on board the Etireno and have been disembarked somewhere, or else there is a second ship.

But since no-one even seems to know its name, the chances of now rescuing the children look very slim indeed.

A United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) co-ordinator said the organisation was "really very frustrated" and increasingly worried about the missing children.

Did the media, Unicef and the Anti-Slavery Movement get it wrong? Was their righteous indignation justified? Were they too quick to point the finger of blame on Africans?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As an African women I feel very angry about what happened to those children and the families. We need to stop this once and for all. It is about time that we as Africans came closer together and fought for our dreams. Unless we start building a better future for our children we will always be slaves in our conscious. God bless Africa!
Sheba, USA

I cannot for one second imagine that a parent has willingly parted with their child without feeling a single emotion of loss or betrayal

Tina, Zambia
It is a sick and inhuman world that we live in when we are still considering buying and selling human beings, especially children. Governments, corporations, we are all to blame. But as Africans, given our situation, we have to learn to fend for ourselves by separating our colonial and enslaving past and learn to contribute to the betterment of our situation. I cannot for one second imagine that a parent has willingly parted with their child without feeling a single emotion of loss or betrayal.
Tina, Zambia

As long as there is demand for slavery services, there will be supply. And where is the source? Of course impoverished nations where natives are very poor and can't afford to look after these kids, even themselves. Note that corporations have rekindled new slavery where villages are emptied of juveniles so that there is no renewal. This makes it easy for them to purchase these lands and use or exploit them as they like. Every effort should be done to stop slavery in Sudan and other nations that target depopulation in order to satisfy their ill ambitions.
Mutoto Mudoogo, Canada

I think it is not the right of outsiders to interfere with African societies as most Western counties have already done enough. However, it is also important to protect the children that may have been on that boat as they are helpless. I think it is important for UNICEF and other institutions to get their facts straight. Otherwise they are damaging the outlook on Africa and continuing the ignorant view of it as the "Dark Continent".
Monica Wooters, USA

Slavery is not unique to the African continent. It has existed in much of recorded history throughout the world. It will not be eradicated as long as humans continue to view each other as an economic resource.
Sarah, UK

Africans themselves should vow never to allow slavery or colonialism again

Zwelithani Mobusa, Zimbabwe/ USA
As economic forces tighten around the continent, it is now time for Africans to stand up against slavery. Too many times most of us shout political slogans about Pan-Africanism without wanting to back them up. Africans themselves should vow never to allow slavery or colonialism again. This is a choicee we can make.
Zwelithani Mobusa, Zimbabwe/ USA

Is it slavery or child labour? These children might be forcibly traded for or at times agree to be traded against in the hope of contributing positively to the betterment of their poor families. This problem should be viewed from an economic and moral point of view. The Government is to blame. It can't just leave such a problem without reacting. Humanitarian organisations should work extra hard in West Africa and other parts of the world, where similar sad and humiliating activities happen and help restore human dignity which seems to be now deteriorating.
Lucas Ogutu, Tanzania

Child slavery will not subside unless more women are empowered. Why do women continue to have children if they cannot support them and end up "selling" them to the highest bidder? Africans have to get to grips with family planning to stop these tragedies continuing.
Serena, UK

Child slavery is a sign of moral decay in society

Elias Mokua Nyatete, Kenya/ Italy
Child slavery is a sign of moral decay in society. Those who sell children, be they buyers, employers, sellers or transporters have eroded a better part of their conscience. If children are "sold" as a means of livelihood, then it is a red signal of total pessimism.
Elias Mokua Nyatete, Kenya/ Italy

I don't think this is the first time this has happened, it's just that we don't always hear about it. It happens all the time. If we want to solve the selling of children we must solve the economic and poverty problems in Africa.
Sien Smiths, France

As much as I agree with Cadbury's demand to end child slavery on cocoa plants, I find it a bit steep that they raise their voice - sitting in the glasshouse... Surely the company is buying the least expensive produce to maximise their profit margins. The competition consequently cascades down to the producer leading farmers into practises like child labour. Only if we all start buying fair trade products will it hopefully reduce the damage done to those who suffer now.
Bettina Adams, Brighton, England

I fear that many consumers will now be confused

Emma Garrow, UK
Following the discussion between John Humphreys and the representatives of Save the Children and the Biscuit, Chocolate, Cake and Confectionery Alliance on the Today programme (Wed 18), I fear that many consumers will now be confused. If they buy chocolate they are supporting child slavery, but if they don't the children may be left in greater poverty. There are many ways in which Western consumers can be of assistance to children in developing countries. Buying Fair Trade products and sponsoring a child are just two of those ways. Any childcare charity will be able to inform on others. Contact them directly, or for further ideas of how to help, see
Emma Garrow, UK

I know that the culture in Africa is different from what we're used to in Europe - my parents are currently working in Nigeria - but it doesn't make everything excusable! The family bond in the continent is greater than that found in many Western countries, so it is unlikely that families "sell" their children to get rid of them... They are expecting them to have a better life, they also want to receive money in exchange, but that's understandable considering they don't know if they, themselves, will live till the next day... The perpetrators are those who should be blamed and they should face justice for committing crimes against humanity.
C B, French in Scotland

The issue of child labour is a complicated one. In some countries children must work for the survival of the family. There must be a global campaign to elevate standards of living so that this is not necessary, but I fear that day will not come and instead the solution put forward will be the WTO and other agreements that only prolong the conditions that cause child labour in the first place..
Sean, USA

As long as trade imbalance exist, we will continue to hear about slave ships and slave labourers. And as long as the West has an appetite for cheap goods that needs to be satisfied, we will continue to hear about child labourers in sweatshops in India and Pakistan; not forgetting the slave/ prison labourers in China. We must level the playing field and make sure that fair trade replaces slave trade.
Charles Biney, Ghana/ USA

Which companies use coffee and cocoa produced by slave labour? The problem of slavery can be attacked from many angles - for example anti-slavery organisations should keep after the traders at the start of the process, consumers can stop purchasing the products at the other end. But we need to know who is involved - to say "half the world's chocolate" is just not enough.
Sandy, Zimbabwe

Child slavery is not only an African problem

Guuled, Somalia/ Canada
Child slavery is not only an African problem, it's a worldwide one. Whether it's child prostitution in Thailand or child pornography in Russia, today's children face a tough world were there is no mercy for them.
Guuled, Somalia/ Canada

This little episode is just one more in a continuous saga of need, greed, selfishness, cruelty and human depravity. When we're not content with doing it to animals, we shift to doing it to each other.
Vida Fulke, England

It is unfortunate that slavery, which is supposed to be a thing of the past, has come back. My question is, where was the Government when the children were being loaded on to a ship? What needs to be done is simple; enact a law that will prohibit parents from 'selling' their children for a plate of food. A poverty eradication programme will also help.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

Am I correct in understanding that the former Irish President, Mary Robinson is standing down as UN Commissioner for Human Rights, partly because of the total indifference shown by many countries? She has had an uphill struggle, when she should have been getting international help and support to tackle these very problems.
Phil W, UK

I find it deplorable that the ship carrying these child slaves was not found earlier

Paul, Cyprus
I find it deplorable that the ship carrying these child slaves was not found earlier. With the satellites available (look at the pictures of the American spy plane), there is no reason why that ship could not have been found and forcibly boarded.
Paul, Cyprus

Most of the time children have to work in Africa and other developing regions. They often have to support a family while still at a young age. They are sometimes paying for the education of their younger siblings. What can be done when parents who never went to school have several children while affording none? I am not in favour of child labour but I prefer working ones to the ones who beg in the streets.

It's easy to talk about child slavery and the way parents "sell" their children when it is someone who has not lived in such areas. Parents most often are seeking a better life to their child they are easily convinced that it's to take them to the city where there are "better opportunities". We should protect children from being dragged into situations by unscrupulous persons promising them the moon. I would support any organisation that can propose something better for the poor families and the children in these families
Dereje, Ethiopia

What can be done about child slavery in Africa? I don't think it's a simple problem of economics and poverty. I think the human heart and morality are involved in terms of those who organise to sell these children into slavery, such as the Nigerian captain. As long as there is greed in the human heart, and a lack of respect for human life, this sort of thing will go on.

What can be done? This is a very simple question. Just go after the foolish mothers and fathers who are given their children to be vultured upon.
Karamoh Kabbah, Sierra Leonean in USA

It should be entirely possible to rescue 200 children and reunite them with their parents or better yet find adoptive parents so they are not resold. The parents of these children should either promise to take care of them or release them for adoption to responsible loving families - application could be made and approved without too much trouble.
Linda Kempin, USA

Child slavery isn't a new phenomenon in Africa

Kaafiyo, Canada
Child slavery isn't a new phenomenon in Africa. If one were to travel around the continent one would be astonished to find the horrors these African children live. But more shocking is the utter disregard by these two countries who turned away the ship.
Kaafiyo, Canada

Why do Africans continue to condemn the West for slavery long abolished when these same African governments are silent about the issue. Any government that condones such inhuman act should be dealt with in the form of sanctions or embargo. The perpetuators should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity and if found guilty should be jailed for the rest of their natural lives.
Henry Williams, NewYork/Sierra Leone

The ship in question has not been found, so we do not know the complete story.

Don Ngogi, Nigeria
I think this issue is overblown. The ship in question has not been found, so we do not know the complete story. The West is putting too much into this, the problem with child labour in Africa is no worse than that of any third world country. We do not enslave our children to other people.
Don Ngogi, Nigeria

It is shameful indeed to know that Africans are still selling their own children right up to the 21st century. This time, however, Europeans are not part of the trade. Severe sanctions should be meted out to the perpetrators of this most horrible crime against humanity. I expect the African continental organisation (OAU) to intervene and put an end to this most deplorable practice once and for all time. No country should be allowed to kill the hopes of a continent (and humanity for that matter) behind the veil of sovereignty. This is a very sad day for mankind.
Epie, Cameroon

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Africa
Search for 'slave' ship
16 Apr 01 | Africa
West Africa's 'little maids'
18 Jan 01 | Africa
Africa's trade in children
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