Ensuring a safe return home is one of the principal obligations states owe to trafficked children. West African countries are in various respects failing in this obligation.223
"Rescue" of Trafficked Children
It has been reported, however, that police in Gabon conduct periodic roundups of trafficked children and arrange for their repatriation by the embassy of their country of origin; this action has been described as "the only regulation in existence [in Gabon] to resolve the problem of child victims of trafficking."224
Togo's Official Repatriation and Reintegration Initiatives
Once in the hands of Togolese authorities, trafficked children are meant to be reunited with their families according to a protocol set by Togo's Ministry of Social Affairs. According to Judge Emanuel Edorh, chief magistrate of Togo's children's court, Social Affairs helps children locate their families and, where necessary, obtains judicial authorization to place a trafficked child in an NGO-operated shelter.226 Government-operated shelters for trafficked children do not exist in Togo, nor does a formal mechanism for housing abused, neglected or abandoned children. The main facility used for these purposes, based in Lomé, is run by the NGO Terre des Hommes and is known as the Oasis Center. Before the government began cooperating with NGOs such as Terre des Hommes, authorities used to place trafficked children in detention along with children in conflict with the law; this practice was officially discontinued in Togo in 1998, however.227 As discussed below, Togo does not have enough facilities to accommodate all returned children who require institutional care.
The individual responsible for trafficked children at Social Affairs is the director of the Department for the Protection and Promotion of the Family and Children. Suzanne Aho, who held this position during the time Human Rights Watch conducted this research, told Human Rights Watch she took care of particular tasks like identifying children's families, delegating temporary custody of repatriated children to local NGOs, and opening bank accounts for children who come back with money.228 She also kept detailed records of trafficked children and supervised a staff of agents at the prefectoral and village level. With a U.S.$302,000 grant from the World Bank, shared with the NGO CARE-Togo, Aho developed a system for training local "vigilance committees" to monitor trafficked children once they return home and help them with education and job training. The vigilance committees are also intended to prevent future cases of trafficking by, among other things, educating parents about the dangers of child labor, and reporting suspicious activity to the police.
Journalist Birgit Schwarz, who accompanied nine trafficked girls on their return home to Togo from Gabon with the help of a Gabonese NGO, described her encounter with Togo's reintegration process as "a web of petty jealousies and people fighting with one another."229 Schwarz told Human Rights Watch that after the girls were received at Terre des Hommes' Oasis Center, the Department of Social Affairs transferred four of the nine children to the police station. "These children were already wary of being locked up by strangers after their experience in the Niger Delta," Schwarz said.230 But when she and an NGO worker went to the police station to check on the children, they were reportedly interrogated without being formally arrested, and harassed. "We were told we would see the children," Schwarz recalled, "but then the police officers accompanied us back to our hotel, searched everything, and interrogated us for several hours. We only got our film back because the [German] ambassador went straight to the president to get it returned."231 Several officials from Togolese NGOs complained of a lack of coordination between government and NGO actors in the reintegration process, leading in some cases to the interruption of services being provided to trafficked children.232
Togo's children's court, which has jurisdiction over children who have been abused, neglected or orphaned, faces numerous challenges when it comes to protecting trafficked children. Judge Emanuel Edorh, chief magistrate of the children's court, told Human Rights Watch that two major obstacles faced by the court at the moment are the unauthorized placement of children in institutions and a lack of resources to investigate children's family situations. "You can't just place a child in an institution without the authorization of a judge," Edorh said. "This rule is meant to protect children."233 Edorh went on to explain that the Ministry of Social Affairs is supposed to bring repatriated children to the court so that an investigation can be judicially ordered, but this is "not always how it works in practice."234 In some cases, for example, government officials invite children to their homes or take them to NGOs without judicial authorization. Though he made no suggestion of bad faith on the part of these officials, Edorh insisted it was in the child's best interests to be placed in a court-appointed institution pending an investigation of their family situation.
As already noted, to its credit Togo has prohibited the detention of trafficked children as a matter of policy. However, this prohibition was violated in the case of the Togolese girl detailed in a police cell on her return to Togo, described above, which constitutes a breach of the child's right to be free from arbitrary detention under article 37(b) of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. This states that the detention of a child "shall be in conformity with the law and shall only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time."235
The reintegration efforts described here constitute positive government interventions which, if implemented properly, can protect the human rights of trafficked children and ensure their humane return to their families. Such efforts may also prevent children from falling into other forms of hazardous work or, worse, being trafficked a second time. The system in place in Togo, however, relies exclusively on the cooperation of local NGOs and falls short of international standards regarding the return and reintegration of trafficked children. These standards, articulated in both international conventions and expert reports,236 emphasize the humane reintegration of all trafficked children, including social, medical and psychological counseling; action to remove stigmatization of trafficked children; and promotion of schooling and vocational training. The testimony of trafficked children interviewed by Human Rights Watch, in particular their vulnerability to sexual exploitation if left without care, underscores the importance of establishing a consistent protocol for the safe return of trafficked children in Togo and applying such a protocol universally.
Recipient Countries' Shelter and Repatriation Services
Although Nigeria has drafted anti-trafficking legislation and demonstrated a commitment to prosecuting traffickers (see below), its protection of trafficked children is modest at best. A police unit in Lagos assists in the repatriation of trafficked children and provides short-term shelter; however, many trafficked children never make it to Lagos, and services have not been established in rural areas where children are known to be trafficked.
In Benin and Côte d'Ivoire, both countries of destination of Togolese children, the government relies on NGOs and international organizations to repatriate trafficked children and provide them with much-needed assistance. Côte d'Ivoire is also known for its successful bilateral accord with Mali, under which thousands of foreign trafficked children have been repatriated since 2000.
Prosecution of Traffickers
In addition to being a recipient country of trafficked boys, Nigeria is a significant country of origin for women trafficked to Europe and the Middle East, and has begun several high-profile prosecutions of persons organizing this trade.242
225 Repatriation does not always occur pursuant to a formal agreement: while an anti-trafficking protocol has existed among Togo, Benin, Nigeria, and Ghana since 1996, no formal agreement exists as yet between Togo and Gabon.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with Suzanne Aho, Lomé, May 6, 2002. These accounts are theoretically blocked until children reach the age of majority, although Aho said this rule was difficult to enforce over the will of children and parents.
232 One NGO official recounted an incident in which her organization and the Ministry of Social Affairs jointly developed a protocol to reintegrate boys who had been trafficked to Côte d'Ivoire. Two of the children were orphans, so the NGO arranged for alternative care for them. "All of a sudden [Social Affairs] decided to place them," the NGO official told Human Rights Watch. "It was, `you go here, you go there,' and that's it." Human Rights Watch interview with an NGO official, Lomé, May 2002.
239 U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001: Gabon, at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/af/8374.htm (accessed August 29, 2002); U.S. State Department, 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gabon, at www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2002/10679.htm (accessed August 29, 2002).