Child slavery is a Cheese Sandwich

Nigeria is one of the African countries deeply involved in trafficking

“Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for child trafficking. Currently,  external trafficking of children exists between Nigeria and Gabon, Cameroon, Niger, Italy, Spain, Benin Republic and Saudi Arabia.”

Despite this the government is not ” complying with the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking”. Since the anti trafficking law was passed in June 03 no one has yet been prosecuted. Nigeria unlike some other countries in the region does not have a shortage of resources to fight trafficking yet the government commits “inadequate funds and personnel”

There is also evidence of corruption and compliance with traffickers by the Nigerian authorities. According to the report, in 2003 Nigerian immigration authorities rescued 500 BENINOISE CHILDREN — 500! enslaved in rock quarries in Western Nigeria. 6 traffickers were arrested but later released after the intervention of a local traditional ruler.   Even when children are repatriated they are often abandoned when they reach home.   Worse still  many of the female children [there is a 7:3 ration of female to male children trafficked] end up in prostitution, domestic child labour and forced labour.

There is also further evidence of the complicity of Nigerian security personnel in trafficking through their failure to take the matter seriously by monitoring and prosecuting criminals. This compounded with the notorious corruption of Nigerian police, and immigration officers and other state agents in preparing false documents.     Although Nigeria is signature to international and regional conventions on the Rights of Children and Trafficking these are not being put into practice.  The Nigerian government itself additionally complicit not least of all is the perpetuation of poverty, poor education and access to health care particularly in rural areas.

How many of us drive the streets of our cities blanked to the thousands of child street hawkers themselves facing horrible verbal and sexual abuse.  The majority of these children are trafficked and work for ‘labour pimps’.  Other staggering figures closely related to child labour and trafficking are the 2 million plus AID orphans in Nigeria.  Many are abandoned by families again due to poverty but also due to the poor education and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.   And I haven’t yet mentioned the abuse of children which takes place within religious institutions or under the guise of “saving” your soul.

I find none of this surprising particularly where children are concerned. The region has a history of enslaving children for domestic and other labour and this has never been a priority for governments. The fact is that slavery for domestic labour is not seen as being a problem. People do it openly — it is acceptable to take children as young as 5 years old as domestics. The children work often 16, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week doing the kind of work well beyond their years. They are mistreated, beaten, mentally abused and very often sexually abused as well. So the fact that the government is nonchalant is hardly surprising – why care about other people’s children when we dont care about our own?  Note that Nigeria is most certainly not the whole country where this is happening. I speak of Nigeria because I know and have seen with my own eyes what is happening there.

I read an interview with Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. The interview mentions a journalist called Philip Gourevitch who wrote a book about his experience in Rwanda at that time. He describes an encounter with with an American military intelligence officer just after the genocide.

The American tells Gourevitch that he has heard that Gourevitch is interested in genocide and he says, “Do you know what genocide is? A cheese sandwich. Write that down,” he tells Gourevitch, “Genocide is a cheese sandwich.”

And Gourevitch asks him what he means by that. “What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich?” the man responds. “Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich. Who gives a shit? Crimes against humanity? Where is humanity? Who is humanity? You? Me? Did you see a crime committed against you? Hey, just a million Rwandans.”

“Did you ever hear about the genocide convention?” he asks Gourevitch. Gourevitch says that he has. “That convention,” the man says, “is good for wrapping a cheese sandwich.”

Child slavery — the crime is not against your child, just an African or Asian child from nowhere — a cheese sandwich.