Gabon struggles to stem tide of child trafficking

A young boy from Togo hauls a load of bananas at the Mont Bouet market in Libreville. Bought in West Africa, hundreds of child victims of trafficking arrive in Gabon, a relatively wealthy oil country in Central Africa struggling to fight against networks of traffickers. (AFP)
Updated 04 July 2018
0

Gabon struggles to stem tide of child trafficking

LIBREVILLE: Senami, a 13-year-old girl, was purchased in Benin.
“My father didn’t want to sell me, but someone put a spell on my uncle and he persuaded my father,” she said.
Taken to oil-rich Gabon, Senami slaved as a domestic servant and later as a roadside peanut seller.
With a mixture of rage and sorrow, she recounts her tragic life — inhumanly long hours, a mat on the floor to serve as a bed and scraps for food.
She worked for a “wicked” Beninese woman in the Gabon capital Libreville who made her “do everything.”
“But when she found that 100 CFA francs (15 centimes) were missing she beat me with slippers and then with a stick,” she said.
Niakate Tene, 12, was bought by a man in her native Mali for 500,000 CFA francs (€760) in 2012 and was forced to marry him.
She was found by the police chained in her husband’s home and in tears. Her husband only did a month in prison before being temporarily released.
Senami and Niakate — their names have been changed — are among many, possibly hundreds, of foreign boys and girls who toil in Gabon as de-facto slaves.
Yet Gabon is only one of nine West African nations, alongside Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria and Togo, where the UN says centuries-old exploitation of child labor remains entrenched.
Recruitment for domestic work appears to be the most prevalent form but other types of labor include work in plantations, small trade, begging and soliciting.
The children survive on meagre portions of food and are generally made to sleep on the floor. If they are paid, the rewards are meagre, for the salary goes to the trafficker.
Many youngsters are brought to Gabon through perilous routes, sometimes on rickety boats on winding rivers.
“Six people died during our journey — we traveled on a dugout canoe for four days,” said Senami, who came to Gabon at the start of this year.
Today she lives in a state-run transit center housing about 80 other rescued foreign children. She only dreams of returning to Benin “to be back with my family and to work for myself.”
Child trafficking in West Africa involves a murky, complex web of cross-border greed, said Michel Ikamba, a Unicef official in Gabon.
It entails traffickers in the country where the child is picked up, middle men in a transit nation such as Nigeria, and finally “receivers” in the host country who take the children and put them to work, said Ikamba.
The gang cream off the money from the children’s work, said Melanie Mbadinga Matsanga, a member of the Gabonese national committee in charge of fighting child labor.
A child nanny is paid between 100,000 and 150,000 CFA francs (€150 to €230) a month but the money goes to traffickers, Ikamba said.
“The child is not paid... and nothing goes back to the home village,” he said.
“Trafficked children can work from 10 to 20 hours a day, carry heavy loads, operate dangerous tools and lack adequate food or drink,” a Unicef report said.
In Gabon, the phenomenon has reduced since a 2004 law criminalized child trafficking, Unicef said, but could not give figures.
“We have referred many people to the courts and it made an impact,” said Sylvianne Moussavou, a lieutenant-colonel in the police who is involved in the fight against child trafficking.
But, she cautioned, many of the children had their ages changed in fake papers produced by the traffickers in order to escape prosecution.
A judge, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of his peers overlooked certain abuses on the grounds that child labor was an old social tradition and less of a criminal act than child marriage.
And, he said, traffickers or their colleagues often tried to bribe magistrates when they were caught.
“Some judges are turning this fight against child trafficking into a money-making machine,” he said.
In the meantime, the practice of child exploitation continues.
“I know many people who employ children at home. They know it’s illegal but a child costs less,” a Cameroonian living in Libreville said.


Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

Updated 14 November 2018
0

Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

  • An official named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep
  • Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year

SINGAPORE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte skipped several meetings at an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore on Wednesday, prompting the 73-year-old’s office to issue a statement scotching speculation that it was due to ill health.
“We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and wellbeing which have been the subject of speculation,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“The president’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”
Panelo named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep, and said he would also skip a gala dinner with the leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations, US Vice President Mike Pence and several others.
Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year, and he has said openly that he is tired and would like to step down before the end of his term ends in 2022.
Last month Duterte’s office revealed that he had undergone a colonoscopy and he told reporters that a biopsy had shown he did not have cancer.
The constitution provides for the public to be told of the state of health of an incumbent president, if serious.
If a sitting president dies, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the vice president succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.
Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, was elected separately in 2016. Speculation about Duterte’s health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarized political climate.
Duterte has cited Robredo’s “incompetence” as a reason for his inability to quit as president.
Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year.
Panelo said it was “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” of Duterte’s absences, noting that he had attended ASEAN meetings with leaders from China, Japan and Russia.
“Last night, the president worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30a.m.”
Duterte is known for having an unorthodox working schedule that typically starts mid-afternoon and includes cabinet meetings that can go on beyond midnight.