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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The children involved are now being cared for by international charities"
 real 28k

Gaston Zoussou, Benin Minister of Information
"It is a matter of great concern for our government"
 real 28k

Monday, 30 April, 2001, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Ship children 'were slaves'
Child taken ashore from the Etireno
Only a handful of children were on board the vessel
Officials in Benin say investigations into a boat impounded following allegations of child-trafficking confirm that it was engaged in the trade as first thought.

A joint statement from the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Benin government said at least a dozen of the 43 children and young adults removed from the vessel appeared to have been potential slaves.

Etireno
Some thought that the Etireno had been mistaken for another vessel
The statement said five of the children reported that a financial transaction had taken place before their departure, while eight told officials they had travelled with adults they did not know.

"It is confirmed that the adventure of the Etireno ship enters effectively in the category of a regional traffic in minors and a clandestine workers' network," the statement said.

The children involved are now being cared for by international charities.

Rescue operation

The Etireno was at the centre of an international search after Unicef said the ship was carrying more than 100 children destined to be sold into slavery in the relatively wealthy state of Gabon.

There was considerable confusion when it turned out that this figure was wrong once the ship arrived in Cotonou.

Some people said there was a second ship that was still at sea - but this has never been found.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle says that, despite the figures being wrong, the case did highlight the widespread trafficking of child labourers in West Africa.

Our correspondent says governments in the region are strongly opposed to child slavery but grinding poverty and insufficient police manpower to stop the human trade means it flourishes in many countries.

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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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