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Benin’s Child Slaves Working Nigeria’s Quarries

Irenee, a skinny Beninese girl of 15, points to three mounds of earth: the graves of her friends who died of exhaustion here in the gravel quarries of Abeokuta, in south-western Nigeria.

UNICEF says about 5,000 children from neighboring Benin are labouring here, eight hours a day, six days a week.

In the sweltering heat and in the lashing rain, Irenee crushes chunks of granite rock, naked to the waist, her skin coated in a thick layer of grime. Failure to produce her quota, whatever the weather conditions, brings with it the risk of being beaten up.

In September 2003, when she was just 11, Irenee and 260 other children were freed by the Nigerian police and sent home, after a dispute between two rival trafficking gangs. But their parents sold them again to traffickers and they ended up back in Abeokuta, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Lagos...

Child trafficking in Benin has risen sharply in the past few years. A law cracking down on the practice was voted in January 2006 but has never been promulgated. “Clearly, as long as this law is not put into practice, some villages carry on with this trafficking without fear,” said Philippe Duhamelle, the head of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in Benin...

Statistics published in June by the Juvenile Protection Police of Cotonou indicate that more than 10,000 children destined to be sold outside the country are intercepted and turned back every year at Benin’s borders.

I heard rote versions of this story dozens of times during my research in and on Benin. As but one illustration of many, Veronica, a local child protection official in the Zou region, lamented the continued mobility of young males to ‘abuse’ despite her efforts at dissuasion. ‘They simply don’t know what awaits them!’ she cried. And of course, for her, as for the journalist mentioned earlier, this included the worst conditions imaginable.

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