Children Sold as Slaves in West Africa

ByABC News
April 20, 2001, 3:52 PM

May 22 -- Mike Sheil traveled to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage.

He was sent by Anti-Slavery International, a British charity, to Benin, where children are sold into slavery, and Gabon, where many of them end up.

Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world and people are just desperate. They very often do not have enough to feed their family. If someone offers to take their child away I think it's almost a relief.

The traffickers are very often known to the people, to the families. They're either friends or other members of the family who take the children away saying that they're going to have a good life in this other place. And, of course, it seldom lives up to that.

The children are taken overland to Nigeria. They're gathered together and put onto boats wooden, open boats, probably about 100 to 150 children on each boat. If you can imagine a 6-year-old child who's never even seen the sea before, it must be absolute hell. They're landed at night close to Libreville, the Gabonese capital, and then they are distributed to their various employers.

Generally speaking, the children are employed in the house, washing floors, cleaning, maybe preparing food when they get a bit older, things like that. Or they may well be made to go out and sell goods on the street.

The one trafficker I was able to speak to had herself been trafficked as a child, so I think she just regarded it as a normal part of life. When she was working as a trafficker, she was trading about three or four children a month and getting about $30 (U.S.) for each child. It may not sound like much, but in that society it's a lot of money.

The Refuge

There are two men in Libreville who are trying to rescue these girls and get them repatriated to their country. Without any resources and without any real campaign to go and attract these girls, in the last year they have repatriated more than 80 children.

They are currently looking after 16 in their house in Libreville. Every child they get costs them effectively $250 (U.S.) to repatriate. You can work out for yourself that they need a lot of money just to get these girls back home. And they haven't got it.