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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Tales of West African trafficking
Many West African children, especially in poverty stricken Togo, are sent abroad to work in near-slavery conditions. The accounts below were all given to New-York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigators looking into the issue.

A 17-year-old Togolese boy trafficked to Nigeria when he was 15

I'm an orphan. My mother died in 1988, and my father in 1994.

I don't know how they died, or if they were sick.

 (c) 2002 Jonathan Cohen /Human Rights Watch
Togolese boys are particularly at risk say HRW
Before I left for Nigeria, I was living with my older brother and two younger brothers.

I was not in school at the time I left. My big brother did not know I was going. If I'd asked his permission, he would have refused.

When we got to the Benin border, there were many routes to take - we got off the truck and passed on foot through the bushes to avoid the police.

We went one by one and had a meeting point on the other side.

There was no food, and the truck was packed full. We spent three days on the road.

Send us your experiences of child trafficking

When we arrived in Nigeria, we were sent to Ibadan. We then went to work in the village of Awo.

We arrived at 0500 and at about 0700 were sent to the fields to work. It is very difficult there. If you are ill and can't work, you are forced or else you won't be able to eat.

Four of us worked together. I don't know how much we were paid, because the man who brought us collected all of our money from the boss.

We made mounds for the yams and cleared the fields. We used machetes to cut the branches away. I nearly cut my finger off with the machete. My hand was completely swollen after two days.

I showed the boss, and he said: "That's nothing. You are too lazy to work."

Every day we worked from 0500 until 1800. After work, we did nothing but rest for the next day. We ate mostly gari [a dough made from cassava] or cassava for dinner.

Our bosses made us sleep in the field. We constructed a shed for ourselves by putting wood into holes and covering it with roots.

We worked for 11 months. When it was time to go, our boss went and bought a bicycle for each of us and told us to ride home.

Before we left he gave us some gari to take with us. After we ran out of food, we would uproot cassava from a farm and eat it raw, like pigs.

We did this for three days. On the fourth day we got home. Sometimes we were stopped by thieves who threatened to take our bikes, so we had to hide in the bushes.

A 16-year-old Togolese girl trafficked to Niger when she was 15

My father died in June 2001; he was bitten by a snake. My mother ran away to Burkina Faso after that; she left nine of us behind.

It was a very bad situation. I lived with my older brothers.

We were just trying to get by. I was training to learn hairdressing, but my father died before the contract had been signed and paid, and so they threw me out.

A young survivor of child trafficking in Togo (c) 2002 Jonathan Cohen /Human Rights Watch
Orphans face terrible physical and emotional abuse
A woman came to see me - she was someone I knew but not very well. One of my friends introduced her to me.

She told me that she knew of opportunities outside of Togo and she could take me somewhere to finish my course, and then I could set up a shop.

I didn't tell my brothers. I knew they would say that I was just reacting to a bad situation and that they could take care of me if I stayed. I wanted to surprise them by coming back with money and skills.

This woman said she would pay for my trip abroad and then I could work it off and pay her back. So we went to Niger. I went in a car as far as Kara, and then we met a bus with about 20 girls in it, most older than me but some younger.

It took two and a half days to get to Niger. The trip was terrible - we had no food the whole time.

I spent one month there in this woman's house.

I had to pound the fufu [mash yams with a mortar and pestle] from 0300 until 1900. I hated it. It was hard and painful work. I was never given any money.

If I lost any of the yam in the pounding, the woman beat me - slapped me with her hand.

If I made a mistake, they wouldn't give me anything to eat.

I decided to talk to the customers who came to eat fufu to see if they could help me.

Finally a boy told me that he would take me back to Togo if I would marry him.

I was desperate, so I said yes just to get out. Now my brothers are working hard in the fields to pay off that boy so I don't have to marry him.

I'm back living with them, and I'm in an apprenticeship again for hairdressing.

The boss there lets me make some money sometime pounding and selling fufu.

A selection of your experiences of child trafficking are being published below.

I grew up in a house where we had young girls working under harsh conditions and for no compensation at all. They cannot go to school because all the housework. I always felt angry.

I have always believed that, this is one serious case of human rights violations, which both the African Union and the UN do not aggressively denounce and fight.

I really had a bad experience about child trafficking when I was in Malabo and Gabon before I travelled to United States where I am now living.

These kids ages from 5-15 would be transported by canoe through the Atlantic Ocean by the so-called traders from Nigeria and Benin to cross from Cameroun-Malabo-Gabon road.

Most of these children are either Nigerian or Benenoui suffered a lot of mental, psychological and sociological problems after they might have arrived at their destination.

Most of them died in between the Oron-Malabo-Bata river and they never reached their destination.

The worst thing about it was that the dead ones are thrown into the river and never accounted for by the person who took them from their homes or streets to this journey.

I think it is a horrible things that the West and Central African government should find one way or the other to help solve.
Nurudeen Sulayman, New York

I lived in Nigeria for about four years with my father and stepmother. Her housemaid worked under slavery conditions and was subjected to almost daily beatings for almost no reason.

This is common in Nigeria. I am still angry. I wish I could have helped.
Abdul Solomon, US/nigeria

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