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Child Trafficking and Migration: Recognising the Signs of the Secret War on Children


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Let us take a walk inside Maputo’s central market. We arrive and find a chaotic environment with people walking in all directions and in their midst children carrying boxes filled with chips and chocolates to sell. Before us appears a boy, not much older than nine. He is dirty, underweight, barefooted and dressed in ragged clothes. The boy approaches and tells us that he will carry our groceries for some change. We agree, reasoning that giving the child some money may help his life.

Walking out minutes later with fresh purchases, you open your purse to pay him and advise him… ”this money is for books and school material!? Are you in school?” The boy answers no. Somewhat shocked, you tell the boy “your parents have to send you to school it’s the law. Where are your parents? The child tells us his parents are in a village over 300 kilometres away, he stays with a ‘family member’ who will help him enrol in school next year. Satisfied, we pay him adding a little bonus for his services and start to walk away. But just before we turn the corner, we notice that an older boy about 16 years old (dressed in the latest fashion) approaches the boy; they have a brief interaction and the child hands over the money we gave him and heads back into the market.

What we just witnessed is child slavery resulting from either child trafficking or child migration. Mozambique’s government and civil society is facing serious challenges in the development of structures to prevent such incidents and protect the rights of children. In Komatiport, one the many border towns in South Africa, our informant from a local NGO shared with us that traffickers were known to guarantee the delivery of over a 100 children within two days. Where are these children coming from?

With 54.7% of Mozambicans living in poverty many parents or guardians unknowingly hand over their children to predators that promise to take their children to school or they knowingly sell them into bondage unaware that their actions constitute a crime. In rural areas devastated by AIDS/HIV orphaned children are left to fend for themselves. These children usually end up living at the mercy of ‘family members’. The girls are found in domestic slavery or end up being prostituted, while boys are found doing heavy and dangerous labour. In the north of Mozambique, boys migrate to work at clandestine mines. Many of them die there because when the mines collapse they are buried alive. Children are exploited because they are ‘cheap labour’ and they fit in the small tunnels. Saving them from a collapsed mine is more expensive than just covering up the hole and finding a new batch of young boys to do the arduous work.

Trafficking in persons is at an all time high in Mozambique, it was estimated in 2008 that over a thousand young women and girls are being trafficked externally every year. Today these numbers are far greater, but the exact figures remain a mystery. To obtain statistics we use numerical projections based on the capacity of the few existing rehabilitation centres and social services that house, feed and educate children. On average only 30 children’s cases can be processed in a month as there isn’t much funding being pumped into actually helping these children. Police reports or reports made to child protection services also help establish a data base; its limitation is that it relies on conscientious people reporting the crime or on the perpetrators being caught.