DEVELOPMENT REPORT - African Child Slaves

By Jill Moss

This is the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, estimates that about two-hundred-thousand children a year are sent to West and Central Africa as slaves. This problem became a major international news story last month. At that time, a Nigerian boat believed to be carrying up to two-hundred-fifty child slaves sailed from Benin. It went missing after it was turned away from ports in Gabon and Cameroon. Benin and UNICEF officials searched the boat when it returned to Cotonou two weeks later.

However, only forty-three children were found on the ship. Some were with their parents. U-N officials are not sure what happened to the rest of the young passengers. Africa has the highest rate of child labor in the world. UNICEF estimates forty-one percent of children between the ages of five and fourteen are put to work. Girls are the worst affected. They usually work in people's homes. Or they are forced to sell sex as prostitutes. Boys are usually forced to work on farms or as fishermen. Often the children work long hours in poor conditions. They receive little or no pay.

Most child slaves in Africa come from the continent's poorest countries, such as Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali. Parents sell their children to traders for as little as fifteen-dollars. Parents hope their children will find a better life in a richer country. Usually, the young people are transported long distances over land and sea to Gabon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Often the trip can be deadly because the boats may not have enough food and fresh water.

West African governments understand the problem and are trying to stop it. Last year, Mali and Ivory Coast agreed to work together to fight the trade of child slaves between their countries. They also announced a number of measures to help children who return home.

Most West African countries have signed a U-N agreement protecting the rights of children. They have also signed the International Labor Organization's agreement to stop the worst forms of child labor. Officials say both measures need to be put into effect in order to guarantee that children are protected from slavery.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Jill Moss.

Voice of America Special English