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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Child slaves returned to Togo
A soldier carrying a child out of slave vessel in Benin in April
Parents often send off children in chase of greener pastures
A group of 68 children, suspected to be the victims of child labour trafficking, have been flown home to Togo after being rescued from a sinking ship.

Togolese officials said the boat the children were on had capsized off the coast of Cameroon late last month and they have now been returned on a Cameroon military plane.

The BBC's Ebow Godwin in the capital, Lome, says the children, aged between 18 months and 17 years old have been taken to the outskirts of Lome to await identification and collection by their parents.

Parent often sell children in the hope that they would get a better life

More than 130 people have been rescued, including many children from Nigeria, Mali and Benin as well as Togo.

Big problem

Several bodies were also recovered.

Togolese officials said that the children were being taken to Gabon to work.

The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says that there is trafficking of about 200,000 children each year in west and central Africa.

Our correspondent also says the trafficking of children which takes place mostly in areas of the country bordering Benin, is a major problem in Togo.

The trade he says involves Nigerian traders who often buy the children for about $40.

Security patrols

He says parents often agree to sell their children in the hope that they are going to a better life or on the promise that they would send money home to the family.

MV Etieno
UN says 200,000 kids are trafficked yearly in West Africa and Central Africa

The government is funding a child protection agency to help tackle the growing problem.

Police and army patrols have also been increased.

Our correspondent says the security agents have succeeded in intercepting child traders, but he adds, that parents protest at the arrests denying their children were being sold.

Parents tell officials instead that their children are being sent away to work.

Education campaigns

The authorities are also in the process of running campaigns to sensitise and educate people about the dangers of child trafficking

But our correspondent thinks this might fall on deaf ears as some already say their action is motivated by their need to fight hunger and poverty.

The rise in child trafficking from Togo happens against the background of a bleak economic situation.

Sanctions imposed by the European Union in 1993, because of a lack of democratic accountability is hitting the rural Togolese particularly hard.

Workers salaries have not been paid for five months.

But our correspondent says the hope now is that free and fair legislative elections, due in October but now postponed to March 2002, would see the resumption of aid.

See also:

06 Aug 99 | Africa
West Africa's child slave trade
16 Apr 01 | Africa
West Africa's 'little maids'
11 Aug 01 | Africa
Riot police disperse Togo demo
10 Jan 01 | Africa
Timeline: Togo
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Togo
22 Jun 01 | Africa
Stricken refugee ship 'saved'
18 Jan 01 | Africa
Africa's trade in children
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