Recently, we have seen the revival of the once thriving slave trade routes across West Africa, after a lapse of 25 years. Slavers have reappeared following the old slave trade routes, except that trucks, jeeps and modern four-wheel drive vehicles and, on occasions, aircraft, have replaced the camels. The slavers often carry mobile telephones.
Some things, however, have not changed. Cunning, deceit, the use of drugs to subdue the children and the whip still remain part of the essential equipment of the professional slaver.
The trade involves most states in sub-Saharan West Africa.
The children are kidnapped or purchased for $20 – $70 each by slavers in poorer states, such as Benin and Togo, and sold into slavery in sex dens or as unpaid domestic servants for $350.00 each in wealthier oil-rich states, such as Nigeria and Gabon.
These children are bought and sold as slaves. They are denied an education, the chance to play or to use toys like other children, and the right to a future. Their lives are at the mercy of their masters, and suicide is often the only escape.
There are more than 300,000 children currently taking part in approximately 36 armed conflicts around the globe. These children, known as the world’s child soldiers, are, according to the Graca Machel report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, defined as any person under 18 who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to, cooks, porters, messengers, fighters and also girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced marriage. While many of these children are lawfully recruited, others are kidnapped or coerced into service. Child soldiers are often used for the most treacherous tasks as they are regarded as being expendable and replaceable.
Child soldiers have recently been used by irregular armed forces in West Africa Angola, Sudan and the Horn of Africa (mainly Somalia). Reports also indicate that children have been used within in East Timor, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Both governments and non-state actors around the world have used children to fuel their armies.
These realities have compelled concerned governments, child rights groups and children themselves to demand a change in this ongoing reality. Whilst current international law allows children of 15 to lawfully take part in armed hostilities, there is a general and growing acceptance that this is far too young.