Togo and Benin – On the West Coast of Africa, thousands of children are sold by their families, often for as little as $30. In exchange, they are offered the vague promise of a better life for their child. But what actually awaits is a life of slavery. The children endure physical and psychological abuse as they work from dawn until dusk far from their homes.
As part of its child protection programmes, UNICEF develops strategies to prevent trafficking, as well as working with local organisations to identify and care for those children who have already been trafficked. Alongside governments, civil society and NGOs, it provides medical, psychological and social care to rescued children, as well as facilitating access to education, vocational training and job opportunities.
NGOs Mensajeros de la Paz in Cotonou, Benin, and Carmelitas Vedruna in the Togo capital Lome, and Misioneros Salesianos in Kara and Lome, Togo, have cared for hundreds of child victims of slavery. By February 2017, these organisations between them had successfully reintergrated 1,527 children into communities.
Eight-year-old Justin walks alone over a bridge near Grand-Popo, in Benin. His mother gave him to a shoemaker in her village, where for months he worked as a cobbler. When he stole some money, the shoemaker threw him out. Justin lived on the streets until the police took him to the Centro de Alegria Infantil. The centre is now talking to his family to try to persuade them to take Justin back and to send him to school. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Staff at the centre are looking for a relative Justin can live with, however distant, because his stepfather does not want to take him in. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Noir has been at the Foyer Immaculee in Kara, Togo for a few months. The centre cares for children who have been abandoned or accused of witchcraft. Noir was brought here after a neighbour reported his family to police. Blaming him for the death of his mother and brother, his family had accused him of witchcraft. During an exorcism ritual, he was made to drink animal blood. For weeks after, his family fed him only once a day and beat him, claiming it was to banish evil spirits. Neighbours reported them to police when they beat Noir unconscious. Noir was taken to the centre for protection. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Fletche’s grandfather took him to Nigeria to wash dishes in a restaurant when he was seven. He would often run away, and his grandfather would beat him and tie his hands and feet together with steel cables. When he was 10, he had to have four fingers amputated to save his hands. When he left hospital, he ended up living on the streets. A mechanic took him to work in his workshop in exchange for a place to sleep and food. A night patrol from Foyer Immaculee rescued him and brought him to the home. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
NGOs use night patrols to identify abused youngsters. As night falls, many street children gather together to sleep. It is a time when the children can talk more freely. The children get to know the NGO workers and trust is developed. Many of the children have escaped domestic violence and exploitation to live on the streets, and are often suspicious, rarely believing anyone wants to help them. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Allo 1011 call centre is a free helpline that was launched in 2009 and is funded by the Togo government. It receives calls about sexual and physical abuse, neglect, forced marriage and children being accused of witchcraft among other things. Three people manage the call centre from 6am until 12pm. In 2016 alone, it received more than 40,000 calls. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Christian is being interviewed at the processing centre in Cotonu after the police found him wandering the streets. It can be difficult to identify abused children. Sometimes they do not know where they come from so information has to be coaxed out of them. If they have marks on their faces this can make it easier as these are used to identify families. If they don’t, the workers will listen to their language and accents. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Rouge is the result of his mother’s on-off relationship with a Chinese man. His father never acknowledged him and his mother died when he was a year old. For a while, He lived with his grandmother, but she was destitute and could not feed him, so he moved on to the streets. A primary school head found him starving and naked, and took him to the Foyer Immaculee. He is now being educated, but nobody has come forward to claim him, so it is unlikely he will go back to his family. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
It is 1pm, which is nap time at the Centro de la Alegria in Cotonu, Benin, but these boys would rather play at super heroes than sleep. Thirty children live in the shelter. They have fallen into the hands of human traffickers, or have been abandoned, beaten, orphaned or are vulnerable for other reasons. Many suffer from night terrors. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Courts, in the Togo capital Lome, have prosecuted 101 human traffickers and found 60 of them guilty in the past year, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice. In 2007, the government enacted a National Action Plan that focuses on preventing human trafficking, bringing its perpetrators to justice and rehabilitating its victims. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Nine-year-old Bleu is going home to live with his grandmother. He cannot live with his mother as his stepfather doesn’t want him. After years on the streets, he was taken to the Centro de la Alegria Infantil, which gave him a temporary home and tracked down his family. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Ten-year-old Grenat’s arrival in Gbeko, his village, is a major event. Everyone knows he was sold to work in Nigeria, and he is returning a hero. After a spell in a shelter, where he received physical and psychological care, they found his family and today he will be reunited with them. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Grenat sits alongside his mother, listening to the authorities in his village, as he is returned to his family. When he was eight, his father sold him to a human trafficker, who took him to Nigeria, where he was put to work in a grocery store. After being repeatedly beaten by his owner, he escaped. He is being returned to his family on the condition that they will not sell him again. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Grenat’s father signs an agreement to reintegrate his son back into the family, with villagers, the village chief and a Mensajeros de la Paz social worker as witnesses. The hope is that with the whole village aware of the situation, villagers will be able to ensure that Grenat’s father does not sell him again. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
It’s the first day of school for Grenat after he was returned to his family. Mensajeros de la Paz will monitor his progress over the next two years, conducting unannounced visits with his family and checking that he is attending school. They will also receive reports from the village chief. The NGO organises summer camps for children who have returned home. The hope is that they will talk more freely during the camps than during NGO visits to their home. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
Marron has just been returned to his father by the authorities in a ceremony, after being brought back from Nigeria, where he was a victim of human trafficking. Marron, who was born in Sedje Denou, Benin, was taken to Nigeria by a neighbour, who promised him a better life. When he was eight, he was sold to a biscuit shop owner. One day, he got lost in a market, and, after a spell at the Centro de la Alegria Infantil, his family was found and they were reunited. [Ana Palacios/Al Jazeera]
CHARBHANGURA, Bangladesh — Each year the brown waters of the Gumani river swell during the summer monsoon, creeping over the surrounding fields to flood Charbhangura, a village of 2,500 people in the Pabna district of northwest Bangladesh.
From July to October the waters can rise at least 10 feet. The trunks of trees more than 30 feet away from the dry season riverbed show watermarks waist high. When the fields flood, the village’s farmers have no work.
“There is water all around,” said Hafiza Khatun, 25, a mother of two whose family income used to vanish for six months of the year when her farm laborer husband had nothing to do. “There was no happiness.”
But three years ago, Ms. Khatun was trained by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization, to tend an unusual source of food and income: a floating farm with a duck coop, fish enclosures and vegetable garden moored by rope to the riverbank.
Five to 10 women can share the structure, splitting about 130,000 taka, or about $1,700, a year. Shidhulai supplies seeds, fish and duck feed and other materials that cost about 10,000 taka.
This money goes a long way in rural Bangladesh, especially for villagers struggling to survive. Ms. Khatun, who has no education and bore the first of her two children when she was 15, previously earned nothing.
Climate change threatens to worsen the severity and duration of floods in low-lying Bangladesh.
Floating farms — and produce that can flourish in flood conditions — are a way to help Bangladeshis live with rising waters.
“There is big demand for solutions for climate change-affected areas,” said Mohammed Rezwan, the founder and executive director of Shidhulai.
With the extra income from selling eggs, fish and vegetables, Ms. Khatun started saving money in a bank for the first time, bought a bed to keep her and her family off wet ground in their dirt-floored home, and helps her husband support the family.
Ducks quacked loudly as Ms. Khatun gathered eggs in the coop, ushering some of them outside to the “duck run,” a stretch of water between fish enclosures. She had never raised ducks or fish before the training, Ms. Khatun said, but “nothing has been very difficult.”
In northern Bangladesh, agricultural land is regularly flooded as rivers are engorged by the annual Himalayan snow melt and monsoon rains. In one of the world’s most densely populated countries, where 156 million people live in an area the size of Iowa, thousands are left with no way to earn a living. Many migrate to already overcrowded cities, contributing to urban blight.
Mr. Rezwan founded Shidhulai as a 22-year-old architecture graduate in 1998. That year, disastrous flooding in Bangladesh killed 700 people and left 21 million homeless.
Initially, Mr. Rezwan focused on building schools on boats, and worked to ensure that thousands of children would not fall behind when roads were blocked by floodwaters.
To date, the nonprofit’s fleet, which now numbers 22 schools, five health clinics and 10 libraries, has provided continuity of education and other services for more than 70,000 children in villages isolated by seasonal floods.
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Four years ago it started to also build floating farms for villagers, and particularly the landless poor, to help them eke out a living during the months of floods.
So far there are 40 floating farms that are worked by about 300 women: Mr. Rezwan has ambitious plans to create 400, to serve 3,000 women and their families in the next few years.
He also argues that the floating farm concept could help other riverine developing countries, as has been the case with floating schools. “They have the potential to be replicated around the world,” he said.
Shidhulai’s school boats have been copied in several other countries, including the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Zambia.
A floating farm measures about 56 feet long and 16 feet wide. The coop can house 100 ducks and is equipped with a small solar panel to power lights inside. It floats on empty oil drums, plastic containers and a bamboo platform.
The coop is attached to bamboo rods that make up two rows of fish enclosures where tilapia is farmed in blue plastic nets. The outer rails of bamboo support the garden. They hold old plastic jugs cut in half where villagers grow cucumbers, beans and gourds in soil and natural fertilizer.
Mr. Rezwan took his initial concept for the farms from floating gardens that had been used in southern Bangladesh for hundreds of years. Those gardens layered water hyacinths — a type of weed — over bamboo structures and topped the resulting artificial island with soil to grow vegetables.
The design had to be modified however, to suit local conditions. The southern model didn’t work in the north, where heavier rains waterlogged the vegetable beds and it was difficult to create drainage. Water hyacinth was also less plentiful in the north.
The duck coop, originally built on a bamboo platform, now rests atop more-buoyant plastic oil drums — recycled and found materials are enthusiastically used alongside locally grown bamboo.
Villagers can now build the entire structure for the equivalent of $260, which is covered by Shidhulai, Mr. Rezwan said.
I abandoned this page many years ago since I thought it is no longer needed or worth my time.
But a lot of things has changed since then. The world now has a new leader, an orange orangutan with the name Trump who is a magnitude dumber and more dangerous than George W. Bush was.
As Google starting to change it’s policy with options such as ‘Forget-me’ and removing links from their database after the request from companies and government, I believe I have to re-start saving the information i find on Internet, rather than just sharing them on FB or G+ where they can disappear anytime the companies decide the information is not valid or useful or marked as spam or dangerous by groups of activists.
So, here I am, back on blogging again! Starting the posts with an image of the most STUPID comment by an American official in recent history.