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2008.04.01

* Guinea- Bissau works to put child-traffickers out of business
* 시간: 03분 07초
* 20 Nov 2007

At a remote police station in eastern Guinea-Bissau, 53 boys are resting after police caught a man trying to smuggle
them across the border into neighbouring Senegal. 

The man in custody is a marabout, a religious instructor. Police say he was trafficking the children to work in the cotton fields or beg on the streets of Dakar. 

The money earned is given to religious leaders, ostensibly for an education, which often consists of nothing more than memorizes verses in the Koran, if anything at all. 

Amandou Jau arrived here confused and hungry. The boys had no food or water for the prior 24 hours. All their earthly belongings were limited to a small backpack, and none of them had any idea what awaited them across the border. 

"All I want now is to go home with my father," says Amandou Jau, as he sits with the other boys at the police station. His father had no idea Amandou was being shipped to Senegal. He had sent him to a Koranic school based in Guinea-Bissau. "When I saw my boy, I cried. I never imagined that he would be in this situation," says Amandou's father, Mamadu Bailo Jau. 

"I am against the begging in the street, and I will be fighting against this horrible reality. I will now keep him at home, and will never send a child away like this again." 

UNICEF partner SOS Talibe has stepped in and provided the children with food and temporary shelter. 

UNICEF is helping out with snacks, sleeping mats, and sports equipment. On a day-to-day level, SOS also offers a dual education system in Arabic and Portuguese. This approach helps children advance in life, while giving them the religious background that is so valued by the community. 

SOS coordinator Malam Baio is working hard to educate parents about what is happening in Senegal, where estimates suggest as many as 100,000 children are beggars. 

"They use religion to make money," says Malam Baio of the SOS Talibé Association. "They exploit the families and the children, in the name of Islam. They take advantage of the innocent for their own gains. This is wrong and against Islam. The right thing to do is to protect the children." 

Protecting the children is not easy when two-thirds of the country lives below the poverty line. Parents here want the best for their children, and are especially susceptible to someone promising a free Koranic education.

Last year, more than 230 trafficked children were intercepted on their way to Senegal. Who knows how many thousands more slipped through.



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