Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

Togo: Law of silence trumps anti-trafficking rule

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 8 January 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Togo: Law of silence trumps anti-trafficking rule, 8 January 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49670b942.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

YELIVO, 8 January 2009 (IRIN) - Parents, police and even judges are hesitant to press charges against human-traffickers because of fear of punishment, concern for the community and confusion about Togo's 2005 anti-trafficking law, according to an NGO analysis of the law.

Any abuse of power that leads to a child's migration and exploitation constitutes trafficking, according to the 2000 UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. 

Roukeatou Tchadjobo, 16, told IRIN that she left school in 2000 when her family could no longer afford it. "When sister [not blood relation] Berekissou promised my parents a job for me in a Togolese woman's house in Nigeria, my parents accepted. It turned out to be a nightmare. I woke up at three in the morning after only two hours of sleep every night for 10 months. I was never paid."

She said another Togolese girl working nearby helped her sneak out and escape in the middle of the night, returning to Togo by car.

Her mother, Rakiyetou, told IRIN she would not repeat the same mistake: "I trusted Berekissou who told us she could help; I did not think she might be tricking us."

For more of their family's story, click here.

When the mother was asked if she knew there was now a law that imprisons parents up to one year for letting their child join a trafficker, she asked: "Do you think I would have ever let Roukeatou go if I had known what would happen? Since when is it a crime to feed my family? And is it not enough punishment what our family has suffered?"

Traffickers face up to 10 years in prison and US$20,000 in fines under Togo's 2005 anti-trafficking law. Forty-five cases have been brought against suspected traffickers and family accomplices, according to a review of the law conducted in March 2008 by CARE International.

Fewer than half of these charges have resulted in prosecutions, according to the national police.

A family friend

Of more than 400 families in which a child had been trafficked, 55 percent said they knew the person who recruited their child for what turned out to be gruelling and often unpaid work, according to a 2002 survey by the NGO Plan International.

CARE International's Togo director, Phillip Kodjo Yodo, told IRIN family and community relations discourage public denunciations in Togo. "The anti-trafficking law has not been adequately applied because people do not see their family as criminals even if these people carry out illegal acts."

Yodo added that the law should not punish parents, as is the case now, in order to encourage more of them to press charges against traffickers. CARE's study raised this possibility. "Traffickers tell parents who threaten to denounce them ?If you press charges, you will also be held responsible. The law will not spare you.' A parent in this situation will be happy just to have recuperated their child safely."

The study also noted judges' unwillingness to prosecute parents, concerned that an imprisoned parent leaves unattended children at home even more vulnerable to the seductive - often false - promises of "family friends". One unnamed judge was quoted in the study "we are not machines applying the law, but are human."

Even law enforcement can be unwilling to reign in traffickers. An unnamed military officer is quoted in the study as saying "By capturing the trafficker, we are not doing the community a service," noting the role traffickers play in finding jobs for village children.

More than 90 percent of families in the north and 77 percent of those in central Togo, two regions most affected by child trafficking, did not make enough to cover basic needs in 2006, according to the government.

Rakiyetou Tchadjobo, whose daughter had been taken to Nigeria, told IRIN she had not looked for Berekissou, who she said never gave the family their daughter's earnings. "We have our daughter. That is more important to us."

pt/np


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