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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
In no case did Human Rights Watch document a "rescue" of a trafficked child initiated by Togolese or other authorities; rather, judging from the interviews by Human Rights Watch, girls' first encounter with authorities typically occurred after they found their way to a police station, usually with the help of civilians, while boys did not recall receiving any state assistance on their journeys home.

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
Togolese children who are found to have been trafficked abroad are supposed to be brought to the local Togolese embassy and repatriated according to an agreement between Togo and the country of destination.225

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
In Gabon, the government only recently initiated a program to protect trafficked children, establishing in March 2002 a shelter to provide them with legal, medical and psychological assistance. The Gabonese government also provides protective services in cooperation with local NGOs, including one operated by a former high school teacher from Togo.

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
There is an almost total lack of prosecution of child traffickers in Togo. Ten traffickers were arrested or detained in 2001, only to be released in most cases for lack of evidence.237 Prosecution is especially difficult in countries such as Togo, where the judiciary is not fully independent; in January 2002, an Interpol Crime Intelligence Officer told a U.N. news service that corruption often prevents prosecutors from moving forward on child trafficking cases identified by police officers.238 A lack of prosecution is also the case for Gabon, despite the drafting of an anti-trafficking law in August 2001.239 In Benin, also a significant destination country for Togolese children, the government has had some success in intercepting and arresting traffickers but as of this writing, had not prosecuted any cases to conclusion.240 Though some prosecutions are currently underway in Benin, a Beninese police chief recently reported to a journalist that of forty-five people he had arrested and sentenced for trafficking from 1997 to 2001, none ever went to prison.241 In Côte d'Ivoire, as in Benin, an absence of targeted legislation combined with an apparent lack of political will makes prosecution of traffickers difficult if not impossible.

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

223 This obligation is found in international conventions discussed in Section VIII: Legal Protection, below, as well as in the national laws and practices of individual states.

224 Adihou, "Trafficking of children between Benin and Gabon," p. 13.

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.

226 Human Rights Watch interview with Emanuel Edorh, Lomé, May 13, 2002.

227 Ibid.

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.

229 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Birgit Schwarz, New York, June 4, 2002.

230 Ibid. The reference to the Niger Delta refers to a coastal region of Nigeria where trafficked girls are reportedly kept while awaiting transport by boat to Gabon (see above).

231 Ibid.

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.

233 Human Rights Watch interview with Emanuel Edorh, Lomé, May 13, 2002.

234 Ibid.

235 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 37(b).

236 See the discussion in Section VIII: Legal Protection, below.

237 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001: Togo, at (accessed August 29, 2002).

238 IRIN focus on regional efforts against child trafficking, p. 3.

239 U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001: Gabon, at (accessed August 29, 2002); U.S. State Department, 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gabon, at (accessed August 29, 2002).

240 Email communication to Human Rights Watch from Jean-Claude Legrand, January 27, 2003.

241 E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Birgit Schwarz, July 5, 2002.

242 See e.g., "Immigration Service Arrests Three Human Traffickers," This Day, Lagos, March 28, 2002; "Court begins trial of seven human traffickers," The Guardian, Abuja, May 3, 2002.

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