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Children are main victims of trafficking in Africa

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 29 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1036
  1. Fiona Fleck
  1. Geneva

    Recruited as soldiers and sold into prostitution and forced labour, children aged between 12 and 16 are the main victims of human trafficking across Africa, a new study compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) says.

    The study found that all Africa's 53 nations reported human trafficking, spurred by poverty, armed conflict, and instability, as well as traditional practices, such as early marriage.

    A third of countries reported trafficking of humans to Europe—where women and children work as prostitutes—and a quarter to the Middle East and Arab states, the report said.

    It found that the number of countries citing cases of child trafficking was double the number that reported trafficking in women.

    In Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Ghana, girls as young as 8 years old were sold as brides for their “purity”—playing on people's fears of HIV infection. Children from war ravaged West African countries were often sold as slave labourers to work on tea, cotton, and cocoa plantations.

    Girls from Togo were trafficked far from home as domestic servants. In Malawi, European tourists drive demand for child prostitutes, and some of those children are sent to Europe as sex slaves, the report said.

    The report described a vicious circle of abuse, in which child victims later became the abusers. In Tanzania it cited trafficked children who later returned to their village to recruit new victims to work in the country's mines.

    “Trafficking is among the worst violations of child rights,” said Unicef's executive director, Carol Bellamy, calling on governments to put an end to the “brazen trade.”

    Unicef urged all African countries to recognise that human trafficking, particularly involving children, is a major violation of human rights and can have grave consequences for economic development.

    Many African governments have yet to ratify the main international conventions outlawing the trade in humans.

    “African countries need to increase efforts and work in close cooperation with one another in order to build a protective environment for children and protect them from trafficking,” said Andrea Rossi, one of the author's of the study.

    Mr Rossi said the trade was driven by sexual and economic exploitation and thrived when a child's protective environment of school, family, and community collapsed.

    “The demand for young girls for prostitution or early marriage, and the conflict related demand for children soldiers, are important,” he said.

    He also cited anecdotal evidence of trafficking in humans for their organs and noted that more research was needed on this and on traditional practices of so called mutti killings of children to use their organs for witchcraft.

    Insight Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Woman and Children in Africa can be accessed at

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