The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

Benin was home to so many of out Caribbean ancestors, today its still home to thousands of slaves, and home to the same families that sold our ancestors, the same scum, different times. The only difference is, the Europeans are no longer buyers.

When you talk about slavery in Africa today, it’s not like talking about slavery in Europe or America today. It’s still real, old-fashioned slavery. African life still revolves around slavery. Possibly, it never stopped, it just went underground.

Benin is located on the West African coast, squeezed between Togo to the north, Nigeria to the west, with Burkina Fasso behind it to the east.

Estimated published number enslaved: 76,000 – 84,000

Population: 10,050,702 (2012)

GDP: $7.557 billion (2012)

GDP/Capita: $752 (2012)

US TIP Report Ranking: Tier 2 (2013)

Remittances as a share of GDP: 3% (2011)

Modern slavery in Benin involves mainly women and children who are trafficked internally or from abroad for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic work or forced labour. Children are trafficked into Benin from Niger, Togo, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, and some women from other parts of Africa, are trafficked through Benin, mostly en route to Europe. (The Sunday Telegraph)

Women and children are trafficked within Benin from rural areas to the cities, and children are trafficked into countries in the region like Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Guinea. (The World Factbook)

The IOM has estimated that more than 40,000 children are victims of trafficking in Benin.

The main sectors children work in are domestic service and agriculture, such as farming cotton or cashews. Other forms of forced labour include fishing, mining in quarries, street vending, and work in the transportation industry. Children are also sexually exploited for commercial gain.

Domestic service is a form of child labour which is typical to the region of West Africa. In a practice called Vidomegon, girls, some as young as seven years old, are engaged as domestic workers in exchange for accommodation and subsistence. Originally intended to aid children from poor families, this practice often results in conditions of modern slavery for the child as he/she is forced to work long hours, deprived of sleep and food, and abused physically and sexually.

In a practice which runs parallel to the Trokosi system in Ghana, the persistence of the Vudusi, or ‘shrine slavery’ affects young girls in Benin, who are offered as sacrifices to religious shrines, and subsequently forced to live in and care for the shrine, and often being habitually sexually abused.

Benin also has a high rate of child marriage, a practice which in some circumstances can constitute modern slavery. In a survey of married 20 to 24 year old women, 34 per cent of them claimed to have been married before reaching the age of 18.

The minimum age for work in Benin is fourteen years old, and education is free and compulsory until the age of eleven. This creates a gap within which children are vulnerable to modern slavery. Children aged 12 to 14 are legally permitted to carry out ‘light work’, such as domestic work, or temporary work, as long as it does not prevent them from attending school.

Official birth registration is very low in Benin, with forty per cent of children under five having no birth certificates, impeding their access to education.

The Labour Code of Benin prohibits forced labour, but only ascribes a penalty of two months to one year’s imprisonment or a fine.

There are only 126 labour inspectors are employed within the Ministry of Labour and Civil Service to ensure the enforcement of the Labour Code, and their mandate includes protecting against forced labour.

Inspections only take place in the formal work sector, while the majority of forced child labour is to be found in the informal sector.

The Central Office for the Protection of Minors provides support to child victims, and has a temporary reception centre with capacity of 120 children, supported by UNICEF and Terres des Hommes.

However, the care of child victims is mostly at the remit of NGOs. There is no government initiated long-term plan for the protection and rehabilitation of victims.

The Government, supported by UNICEF, put in place a National Policy and Action Plan for Child Protection (2008-2012). It also drafted a National Action Plan to Combat Child Trafficking and Labour. Due to a lack of funding for both of these Action Plans, their implementation has been weak.

Yet still its getting worse.

How does this sit with our claims for reparations? Perhaps we should buy as many slaves as we can, and bring them to the Caribbean. Like us, they will be much better off.

(The Walk Free, Global Slavery Index 2013)

Peter Binose
Self Appointed Keeper of the Whistle

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].