In Africa, there is a cross-continental link between chronic poverty and migration to oil-rich countries. Where children and oil-producing countries such Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo are concerned, this link is child trafficking.
Delegates from these countries, as well as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) met in the Congolese city of Pointe Noire to discuss measures to prevent child trafficking and child labour in their countries.
In Equatorial Guinea, the oil industry is expanding in the areas of Malobo and Bata, creating a demand for cheap labour and a commercial sex industry.
Gabon’s Director-General of Social Affairs, Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga, told the IRIN today that, “Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children.”
Most countries in West Africa have lower development indicators than richer, oil-producing states. The human development index (HDI) is a more holistic measure of poverty that takes into account both social and economic development indicators for life expectancy, educational attainment and per capita income.
West African countries such as Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and the Gambia have some of lowest HDI values, according to last year’s Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). These countries occupy ranks between 167-186, out of 187 countries with data. Meanwhile, with the exception of the DRC (which ranks last), oil-producing states tend to fare better. Gabon ranks 106th and Equitorial Guinea ranks 139th.
Children are legally protected from economic exploitation under the auspices of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, International Labour Organization Convention 182 (on the worst forms of child labour) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
All African countries, except Somalia, have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty.
Yet, often, child trafficking in the affected countries takes place with the consent of children’s parents, who can be fooled by traffickers promising to provide their children with a better life—one in which they would have access to essential services such as health care and education. Children in the DRC, meanwhile, face the danger of being forcibly recruited by armed groups operating in some of their communities.
“The parents in the countries of origin do not even know what happens to their children in the countries of destination,” said UNICEF Congo representative, Marianne Flach, to the IRIN.
Globally, as many as 1.2 million children have been made victims of human trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, the world is also home to 215 million child labourers.