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This report implicates both child traffickers and government officials in grave abuses of the human rights of children. From the moment they promise to provide children with schooling, vocational training and paid work, child traffickers perpetrate horrific abuses with virtual impunity. They take children on long journeys that cause injury, sickness and death; order them to perform difficult and often hazardous labor; rarely compensate them for their services; and subject them to repeated mental and physical cruelty. Sometimes with the supposed consent of parents, traffickers keep children from their homes for long periods of time and deny them all contact with their families. Rarely do they fulfill their promise to provide children education, professional training or adequate compensation for their work.

The Togolese government's promise to take immediate and effective steps to eradicate child trafficking rings hollow. According to international conventions signed or ratified by Togo, an effective response to child trafficking requires the prosecution of traffickers, the protection and reintegration of trafficked children, and the mitigation of forces fueling the supply of and demand for trafficked child labor. In 2001, however, Togo arrested or detained only ten traffickers, while it detained fifty-five parents of children stranded in Cameroon after a boat to Gabon capsized.41 Most of the alleged traffickers were ultimately released for lack of evidence.42 At the same time, border patrols in Togo failed to prevent traffickers from traversing the country's borders, and in some cases accepted bribes. Children who escaped or were released from hazardous labor received inadequate protection from law enforcement officers, rendering them vulnerable to abandonment, sex work and retrafficking.

Like other countries in West Africa, Togo raises resource constraints as one reason why its response to child trafficking has been so ineffective. The country's leading anti-trafficking official told Human Rights Watch that she needs "many many more resources" to protect trafficked children and described her office's budget as "a virtual budget" that "exists only on paper."43 The director of cabinet for Togo's Department for the Protection and Promotion of the Family and Children, Koffi Badjow Tcham, added that "the resources are not commensurate with the problem," and that after returning trafficked children to their communities, "it would be nice to guarantee at least their primary education."44 These and other officials cite suspensions of development assistance by the United States and the European Union as reasons why the government fails to protect the basic human rights of children.

An examination of Togo's anti-trafficking strategy reveals that the problem goes far beyond resource constraints, however. The cornerstone of this strategy is a law that would imprison the parents of trafficked children for up to five years for simply failing to report a known trafficker to the police. At the same time, the proposed law contains no guarantees on the reintegration of trafficked children and their protection from further abuse and retrafficking. The law also contains weak and insufficient language on the prevention of trafficking, containing one provision calling for "appropriate" prevention measures compared to six provisions on the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, parents and relatives.

Togo's prevention strategy has equally failed to address the root causes behind child trafficking. While endeavoring to raise awareness of child trafficking, the government has paid less attention to the forces that compel parents and children into believing-or wanting to believe-the promises of child traffickers. These forces are not limited to poverty, but also include denial of educational opportunity, the subordinate status of girls, and the loss of parents to sickness and disease. Despite promising children free primary education, the government has not delivered and has allowed children unable to pay school fees to be expelled from school and subsequently be recruited by child traffickers. It has neglected the plight of children trafficked following the death of a parent, whose numbers will only swell as HIV/AIDS spreads across West Africa.

Foreign governments also have an obligation to address child trafficking in Togo, whether it be through protecting children trafficked to their countries or by contributing technical or financial assistance to Togo's anti-trafficking efforts. The countries implicated in this report have recognized the existence of child trafficking in their borders, arrested or detained some traffickers, and/or assisted in the repatriation of trafficked children to or from Togo. However, they are no further ahead than Togo in enacting targeted anti-trafficking legislation, seeing prosecutions through to completion, and establishing consistent protocols for the humane reintegration of trafficked children. Likewise, the international community has not gone far enough in providing the necessary financial assistance to Togo's anti-trafficking programs.45

Togo has participated in a succession of international meetings on child trafficking and has joined other nations in renouncing the practice. It has drafted new anti-trafficking legislation, established committees to raise community awareness, and repatriated children found to have been trafficked abroad. These preliminary actions are positive, but are not commensurate with the scale of the child trafficking problem, either in terms of the number of children trafficked or the severity of the abuses they experience. Absent a more sustained commitment to prevention, prosecution and protection, children will continue to be lured from their homes, spirited across and within Togo's borders and exploited with virtual impunity.

41 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001, p. 17.

42 Ibid.

43 Human Rights Watch interview with Suzanne Aho, Lomé, May 6, 2002.

44 Human Rights Watch interview with Koffi Badjow Tcham, Lomé, May 7, 2002.

45 At this writing, international assistance for Togo's anti-trafficking efforts included a U.S.$302,000 grant from the World Bank; a share of a U.S.$4,200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to ILO-IPEC for regional anti-trafficking efforts; and a $2,000,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for a "Child Labor Education Initiative," disbursed in October 2002.

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