Photographer Ana Palacios documents the work to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked and abandoned children in Togo and Benin.
It’s a trick that is played upon the most desperate in some of the poorest regions of the world. Families struggling to make ends meet are approached by an intermediary to give up a child. There is a vague promise of a better life for the child than the parents could themselves provide, and some cash is offered. In West Africa the sums can be as little as $35.
The child is then relocated far away from their home region and enters a life of slavery, forced into long days of exploitative unpaid work and abuse.
But governments, local and international NGOs and UNICEF are all involved in the push to try and bust this racket – both by developing strategies to stop trafficking and by coming to the rescue of these vulnerable children. The latter involves finding them a place of safety, providing counselling and medical assistance, addressing their lack of education, and then thinking of ways either to reintegrate the children in their communities or build the skills required for future independence.
All names are pseudonyms chosen by the children themselves.
The individuals in our story were supported by the following NGOs who have so far successfully reintegrated over 1,500 children:
Mensajeros de la Paz in Cotonou, Benin – www.mensajerosdelapaz.com
Misiones Salesianas in Kara and Lome, Togo – www.misionessalesianas.org
Carmelitas Vedruna in Lome, Togo – www.vedruna.org
Ana Palacios is a photojournalist who focuses on African issues. Her work has been published in Stern, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, El País and Tiempo among others.