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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 09:44 GMT
Tales of woe from Nigeria's child 'slaves'
By Sam Olukoya
BBC, Lagos

Two children in a bus
The children will be scarred for life
Recently Nigerian police rescued about 200 "child slaves" from forests in the south-west, where they were forced to work in granite mines or digging sand.

They have arrested about seven members of a syndicate accused of involvement in the trafficking of children from neighbouring Benin.

The children, mainly aged between five and 15, are either snatched from their families or lured away with promises that they are being taken to Nigeria to further their education.

In the forests around the town of Abeokuta, they dig several lorry loads of sand and granite every day, which are transported to Nigerian cities to be sold as building materials.

We were sleeping on the sand and we saw an animal. When it came it attacked a child, who died
Mansua Bokovo
Former child slave
One of the recently rescued children, Macenia Boha, says they were beaten if they did not work hard enough and also if they asked for food, even if they were hungry.

"You are always hungry," he said.

"They are bad people. They did bad things to us."

Macenia is lucky to have lived to tell his story.

Wild animal

A number of children are known to have died in the forest. Alexis Kesinu, who is about 12-years-old, says while he was in the forest he saw six children die.

He said the "masters" would not let the children take any time off, even if they were ill.

"When they went back to work they died," he said.

Rescued children
They were delighted to be freed
But it is not just the harsh conditions and ill health that cause deaths among the captive children - they are also at risk from wild animals living in the forests.

"We were sleeping on the sand and we saw an animal. When it came it attacked a child, who died," said another of those rescued, Mansua Bokovo.

"But I don't know where the corpse was taken to."

It is unclear how long the syndicate has been holding children in the forest.

Some children who were rescued say they spent up to seven years in the forest and it is thought that thousands of children are still being held in forests spread across south-western Nigeria.

Song of freedom

There is no doubt the children I met, even though they are free now, will remain scarred by the trauma of their ordeal in the forests.

Kekere Nocham, who is just about five-years-old, says the children used to sing a protest song while in captivity.

The song says that while the servant who does all the work is starving, the master who does nothing becomes fat.

For these children, this songs rings all too true.

Trafficked Benin children freed
16 Oct 03  |  Africa
Nigeria re-opens Benin border
15 Aug 03  |  Africa
'Slave ship' timeline
17 Apr 01  |  Africa
Country profile: Benin
25 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
07 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

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