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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 08:12 GMT
Somalis 'smuggling children overseas'
A woman and child in a Somali refugee camp
Parents hope children will have opportunities abroad
Somali parents are paying up to $10,000 to have their children smuggled abroad, a United Nations investigation has revealed.

The widespread practice has become an accepted way for parents to seek a better life for their children, the UN says.

Those who arrange the transportation of children out of Somalia now consider it a legitimate strategy of survival

UN report
Some children are simply dumped at airports, suffer psychological trauma or end up in prostitution, the report claims.

Somalia remains wracked by violence, but families also complain of a lack of health and education facilities.

New routes

Smugglers told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) that 250 children used to be sent out of the country every month.

That dropped to between 40 and 60 children after border and airport security was increased around the world in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the United States in 2001.

Somali woman with children
Some children end back in Somalia - where they are regarded as 'failures'
But new routes have been found and the numbers are increasing again, though IRIN says it is impossible to calculate a precise figure.

Most of the children spirited out of the capital, Mogadishu, are teenagers, the UN says.

"Child smuggling from Somali territories is now so widespread that it has become a critical informal institution.

"Those who arrange the transportation of children out of Somalia now consider it a legitimate strategy of survival."

Economic pressure

Prices doubled after the attacks on New York and Washington, going from $3,500 to $7,000, according to the report's researchers.

Some parents paid up to $10,000 for their child to be taken to the West, according to the report, A Gap In Their Hearts: The Experience of Separated Somali Children.

"Somalis love their children and do not like them to stay abroad, but there are those who want them to go there and learn

Abdulkadir Yahya,
Centre for Research and Dialogue

Abdulkadir Yahya, co-director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue, a non-governmental organisation in Mogadishu, told the Associated Press news agency there was pressure on parents.

"Somalis love their children and do not like them to stay abroad, but there are those who want them to go there and learn... for economic reasons and education," he said.

IRIN said parents often raised money to send their children abroad by selling their houses and moving in with relatives.

Lucy Hannan, the report's author, said: "It's an economic system.

"The only way to try and stop it is if Somalis are given an incentive to stay in the country and are given some sort of future."

New identity

Somalis are believed to make up one of the largest groups of unaccompanied child migrants heading for Europe and the US.

But the report found misery awaited many smuggled children.

Often the family just wants social service benefits, and does not give the child any affection or proper attention

Dahabo Isa,
Somali Development Organisation
Some were ordered to memorise a new name and identity to trick authorities but were then just dumped once they were in a new country, IRIN found.

Immigration officials often succeeded in reuniting the children, some as young as two, with relatives in the host country, it said.

But while some children were cared for by their extended families, some were simply used in rackets to claim government welfare payments, according to the report.

Dahabo Isa, of the Somali Development Organisation, a British charity, was quoted as saying: "Often the family just wants social service benefits, and does not give the child any affection or proper attention.

"I have heard of suicide cases, where these young Somali children attempt to kill themselves."

The report was funded by the European Union and Sweden and is based on research carried out by the agency in Somalia, Sweden and Britain last year.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
"Although immigration procedures were tightened up after September 11th, the smugglers have simply opened up new routes"
See also:

14 Dec 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
27 Oct 02 | Africa
28 Nov 02 | Country profiles
28 Nov 02 | Africa
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