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RIGHTS-TOGO: Celebrations as Anti-Trafficking Law Is Put Into Effect

Noël Kokou Tadégnon

SOKODE, Central Togo, Jun 19 2007 (IPS) - Civil society organisations in Togo have welcomed the sentences handed down to five child traffickers last week. The trials marked the first application of a law adopted in August 2005 against the trafficking of children.

“The most important thing for us is the strong message that the government wants to send to traffickers, which is tell them that impunity is no longer acceptable in the face of this phenomenon (trafficking) in Togo,” said Cléophas Mally, an official at WAO-Afrique.

This non-governmental organisation (NGO), based in the capital of Lomé, was initially the African chapter of the World Association for Orphans, a Belgian NGO – but has since become autonomous.

“Since the adoption of this law there has not been a trial, which meant that people were still tempted by trafficking; but these trials will enable them to understand that the law exists and will be applied to everyone,” noted Délali Kpéglo of the Plan Togo NGO, also based in Lomé.

Children themselves had something to say.

“We can only rejoice (about these verdicts) and we will continue…to fight so that this (trafficking) ends in our country and everywhere else,” said Sylvain Anson-Anoumah, 12, who belongs to a children’s rights association – Club Espérance (Club Hope) – based in Sokodé.

Four of the five traffickers were tried by a court in the northern town of Kara.

Soulé Lamania was sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment of 18 months for having taken five children to Nigeria, while Anaheri Kasso was sentenced to 12 months in prison (five suspended) and a fine of about 2,000 dollars for trafficking three children.

Yamba Kodjo was ordered to pay some 600 dollars for having taken the children of his sister to Nigeria, after having said that he was transporting them to a village. This money will be used to repatriate the children.

The fourth trafficker tried in Kara, Pascal Bayobda, was found guilty of rape and of procuring a 14-year-old – and received a suspended, 12-month jail term.

Simultaneously, a court in Sokodé found Issa Ousoumanou Oukenini guilty of trafficking five children to Nigeria – and sentenced him to fixed imprisonment of two years.

Under the ‘United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish the Trafficking of Persons’, trafficking is viewed as encompassing a broad range of activities that result in people being used “for an improper purpose”, such as forced labour and sexual exploitation. (The protocol was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000.)

The United Nations Children’s Fund notes that over a million children are thought to be trafficked globally each year.

Thousands of these cases occur in West Africa, where children are trafficked within their countries or to neighbouring states – girls often to work as domestics, and boys as agricultural labourers.

“They are recruited on false promises of education, professional training and paid employment,” notes the New York-based Human Right Watch in a 2003 report titled ‘Borderline Slavery: Child Trafficking in Togo’.

Children may find themselves “ordered into hazardous, exploitive labor; subjected to physical and mental abuse by their employers; and, if they escape or are released, denied the protections necessary to reintegrate them into society.”

Widespread poverty paves the way for trafficking, making parents and children alike susceptible to the promises of traffickers.

“He came to see me to tell me that he would help my child to become something…and this is the reason why I entrusted my son to him,” the father of a trafficked child told IPS. It required the arrest of the trafficker for this man to become aware of the consequences of his action.

A 2005 report from Plan Togo notes that almost one in eight Togolese children is sent to work far from home.

Under the 2005 law, those responsible for the trafficking of children and their accomplices may receive prison sentences of a month to five years, and fines of 1,000 to 20,000 dollars.

The law has also tightened up on the departure of children from Togo. Special authorisation from a court is now required to take a child who not accompanied by its parents or guardian out of the country.

For several years now, “comités de vigilance” (vigilance committees) have been put in place to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking and, according to Human Rights Watch, keep track of children likely to be targeted and the traffickers themselves.

The problem of trafficking was also highlighted Jun. 16 during the Day of the African Child, as it formed the central issue the commemorative day this year.

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