23 April 2004
A new study by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, finds that human trafficking is affecting nearly every country in Africa. The study finds that children are most vulnerable to being exploited for labor or for sexual purposes.
Fifty three countries were surveyed in this extensive research into the problem of human trafficking in Africa. The UNICEF study says there are no reliable estimates on the actual number of people being trafficked, but it says the problem is huge.
The report's coordinator, Andrea Rossi, says more than half of the countries surveyed acknowledge that trafficking, especially among children, is a serious problem that demands effective action.
"Looking at the countries, in almost all of them, 89 percent of cases, we found cases of trafficking internally in Africa," he said. "That means trafficking of women and children from African countries to African countries. We also find that in 34 percent of cases of African countries, there were cases of trafficking to Europe, and more interesting, 26 percent of African countries were reporting trafficking directly to Middle East and Arab States."
The study describes trafficking as a dynamic phenomenon that can change from day to day depending on the changing circumstances of a country. Mr. Rossi says that for example, before the civil uprising in Ivory Coast, it was a major receiving country. But since the crisis, more people are being trafficked out of Ivory Coast to countries where they often are used as slave labor or for sexual purposes.
UNICEF says poverty can create a desperate situation for many women and children, making them marks for manipulation. But at the same time, it says, poverty is only one of many reasons behind this flourishing criminal trade.
The survey says trafficking occurs when a child's protective environment collapses due to conflict, economic hardship and discrimination. It also says some traditional attitudes and practices in Africa, such as early marriage and lack of birth registration, increase the vulnerability of children and women to exploitation.
The study says children are used as cheap domestic and agricultural labor. It finds the demand for young girls for prostitution or early marriage is high and that children in conflict zones are used as soldiers.
In its report, UNICEF urges African countries to harmonize their national policies against trafficking. It says anti-trafficking efforts across the continent must be strengthened by enacting tough laws and by punishing those responsible for trading in human beings.