Guinea-Bissau must move fast to pass a law banning human trafficking, urge aid groups.
The West African country has no law against human trafficking. Each year, growing numbers of children are at the moment being legally moved over its border to be exploited or forced to work or beg.
Aid organisations yesterday said the planned anti-trafficking law on Guinea- Bissau’s National Assembly’s Autumn agenda would give police and lawmakers the power to better protect the thousands of children trafficked to Senegal and other countries.
“This important piece of legislation is the first step to combat the serious problem of child trafficking in Guinea-Bissau,” said Corinne Dufka, from the campaign group, Human Rights Watch. “Guinea-Bissau’s National Assembly would finally send the right message to human traffickers that the country intends to protect its children.”
Previous efforts, though at getting the law on the Assembly’s schedule and passing it, have failed.
Each year, thousands of boys are taken north from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal by their teachers, who claim they will study in daaras, or Quranic boarding schools, according to an April report by Human Rights Watch. Some of them are taken by night along secret routes between borders. When they get their, most are forced to beg and are made virtual slaves by their Quranic teachers. If they don’t meet daily targets of bringing back money, rice and sugar, many are physical and mental abused by their teachers. They are also malnourished and because of that, extra vulnerable to disease for which they’ll rarely get medical treatment.
Other children from Guinea-Bissau are trafficked to neighbouring countries to work picking cotton or cashew nuts. Women meanwhile are sent over the border and forced into sex work.
Aid groups campaigning to get the law passed, SOS Talibé Children, Human Rights Watch, and the Association of the Friends of Children, have been talking to police and border officials to try and put secret border crossings involving children under close watch.
“Improved training and resources for border officials could help reduce the flow of children at risk of being taken across the border, and we need that,” Malam Baio of SOS Talibé Children told All Africa news service. “But passing this law is essential. The lack of a domestic legal framework to address trafficking prevents officials from tackling the root problem.”
Currently traffickers from Guinea-Bissau face barely any punishment even when they get stopped at borders without the right papers for moving children across the border.