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The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"There are fears that the children... may already be on their way to join West Africa's army of young workers"
 real 56k

The BBC's Humphrey Hawksley
"Slavery is West Africa's dirty commercial secret"
 real 56k

The BBC's George Eykyn
"There are fears the captain may have tried to dump his cargo of children"
 real 56k

Delphine Rouchwickpon, Plan International
"We have not heard anything more"
 real 28k

Monday, 16 April, 2001, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Benin seeks help over 'slave' ship

Benin has appealed for international help from the United Nations and Western governments to capture a cargo vessel believed to be carrying up to 250 child slaves off the coast of West Africa.

Interpol has also issued arrest warrants for the Benin national who chartered the Nigerian-flagged ship - Stanislas Abanton - and the crew.

We need top technology, we need satellites and fast ships to help us

Benin's Social Protection Minister Ramatou Baba Moussa
Officials in Benin say that the ship was spotted on Sunday near Malabo, the capital of the Equatorial Guinea, for the first time in five days.

The ship, reported to be in poor condition, is not responding to communications, according to officials.

The vessel had been turned away from ports in Gabon and Cameroon.

Help needed

Benin Social Protection Minister Ramatou Baba Moussa said her country did not have big enough naval boats to intercept the ship.

"We need top technology, we need satellites and fast ships to help us," Ms Moussa said.

child worker
Two in five African children are estimated to be working
"We have talked to the United Nations and will be calling the ambassadors of United States and France to ask them to launch a search."

Nicolas Pron, a senior Unicef official in Benin, said the organization was "really very frustrated" and increasingly worried about the safety of the children.

Mr Pron said that because of the length of time the ship had been at sea, two weeks, it was "doubtful" that the children had enough food or water.

The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, are also worried that the ship's captain - a man with a criminal record in Nigeria who has been accused of trafficking child slaves in the past - could dump his human cargo.

River ports

Although the main ports in the region are on alert, Nigeria in particular has many small river ports in the Cross River and Niger deltas quite close to the Etireno's last port of call.

From there the passengers could continue their journey overland to their destination, believed to be Gabon.

Cocoa beans
Cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast employ thousands of children
Unicef has set up a centre in Cotonou to receive the children on their return.

A spokeswoman said that where possible the children would be reunited with their families.

The ship has been on a round trip of more than 2,000km (1,250 miles) since setting sail from Benin.

Human rights activists say the selling of children into slavery is still quite common in impoverished Benin, although it is officially banned.

They say parents are often tempted to sell their children for as little as $15 in the hope that they may find work in richer West African states, usually on cocoa and coffee plantations.

Thousands of children between the ages of nine and 12 are thought to work on plantations in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer.

Anti-child labour campaigners say they are forced to work long hours, and are frequently subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Africa
West Africa's 'little maids'
06 Aug 99 | Africa
West Africa's child slave trade
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Benin
28 Sep 00 | Africa
The bitter taste of slavery
29 Sep 00 | Africa
Mali's children in slavery
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