Below is a short summary of some of the key issues from Benin's report by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Read the full text. Please note that this is not an official UN summary.
The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography conducted an official visit to Benin from 28 October to 8 November 2013. Trafficking of children within Benin and to neighbouring countries is a phenomenon of alarming proportions. It is impossible to reflect in exact figures the actual extent of the sale and sexual exploitation of children in Benin because of the clandestine nature of these phenomena, a lack of centralized and disaggregated data and, above all, the very small number of reports, but the problem has been recognized by all stakeholders interviewed. The sale of children in Benin was not presented as a major problem during the visit, although it is at times difficult to distinguish it from the alarming phenomenon of trafficking in children, the seriousness of which is recognized. The Special Rapporteur obtained very little information concerning the dissemination of pornographic material involving children. However, some stakeholders expressed concern at the growing risk of sexual exploitation online, given the proliferation of Internet cafes, concerning which there is very little supervision because of the limited capacity of the Central Office for the Suppression of Cybercrime.
The Special Rapporteur was concerned about the persistence, in particular in certain rural areas, of the practice of early marriage, which is sometimes regarded as a family survival strategy. All stakeholders interviewed referred to the problem of “vidomégon” children (children placed in families which traditionally are responsible for their care, and their education in particular) exploited at the Danktopa market in Cotonou, the biggest open market in western Africa. Today this tradition supplies child sale and child trafficking networks. Employers and intermediaries go directly to the villages to collect these children. The Special Rapporteur was also informed about the growing phenomenon of missing children. The phenomenon of sexual exploitation of children in Benin was acknowledged by all stakeholders interviewed, although the Special Rapporteur was not provided with any figures. There was universal agreement that the problem existed, but that it was carefully concealed, and even “disguised”. Young vidomégon girls, in addition to being exploited economically, reportedly are often victims of occasional and “informal” prostitution. It was reported that some sell their bodies to market guards in exchange for a place to sleep at night, and that others are forced to prostitute themselves to earn the money which they were unable to make during the day, and thus avoid being subjected to violence by their guardians.
All stakeholders interviewed referred to the shocking number of child victims of sexual abuse, in particular girls in school, but also at places of occupational training, in families, at markets and construction sites, in voodoo convents and other places of worship, at video clubs and in the street. A large part of the study on violence against schoolchildren in Benin focused on sexual violence. The Special Rapporteur was told that sexual harassment and abuse by teachers, but also by other pupils, is frequent in the school environment. Some teachers reportedly promised good marks in exchange for sexual relations. The phenomenon has become such a problem that it has been the subject of a number of interministerial decrees. The Special Rapporteur is outraged that such abuses are occurring at schools, which should provide a protective environment. In addition to causing irreversible physical and psychological harm, these abuses lead to an alarming number of early pregnancies.
The factors underlying the sale and sexual exploitation of children are numerous and interrelated. They are linked to supply (families in great difficulty, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, problems of access to basic social services, school dropout, unsafe access to the Internet and certain social norms) and demand (growing demand for sexual services involving children, increasingly structured exploitation networks, rapid and frequent evolution of destinations for child sex tourism). Some categories of children are more vulnerable: children without birth certificates, children living on or roaming the streets, migrant children, juvenile workers, vidomégon children, abandoned children and orphans, children placed in institutions and children who are victims of sexual abuse within the family. The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about the persistence of practices harmful to children, including infanticide, rites of initiation and forced confinement in voodoo convents, corporal punishment, excision, the treatment of “witch children”, early and forced marriages and the treatment of talibé children (children in Koranic schools who are forced to beg by their religious teachers).
Benin ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and its two optional protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2005. In 2001, Benin ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, 1973 (No. 138) and the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182). In 2004, it ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. However, the Special Rapporteur noted that the protection of children is not a priority on Benin’s political agenda. She expressed her deep concern about the relative social tolerance towards violence and exploitation involving children and the impunity of the perpetrators of these crimes. Although Benin has many laws relating to the protection of children, they are ineffectively implemented due to difficulties of access for children to recourse mechanism guaranteeing their protection and safety, as well as corruption and impunity. The Special Rapporteur urged the Beninese Government to implement effective and sustainable preventive measures and strengthen capacities and governance of central and local bodies. Further, she recommended that the Government adopt a cross-cutting approach centred on children’s rights and which aims to put in place an overarching strategic framework for comprehensive child protection, that it ensure the effective application of laws and that the Government ensure the establishment and smooth functioning of a children’s rights recourse and monitoring body in line with international standards and to strengthen regional and international cooperation and effectively combat these activities, which transcend borders.