BBC World Service
I have a right to...

Michel Lobe Ewane - French for Africa

Reporter's Story

I went to Ivory Coast, Benin and Cameroon. In Ivory Coast, I focussed on the issue of nationality and child trafficking.

In Africa, I found people have become more aware of the role of civil society in organising itself to fight for human rights.

I met a 13-year-old boy who lives on the streets. He was beaten and exploited and was a victim of maltreatment. He knows that what he got is not what he deserves.


Ivorian-ness

Nationality is an issue that has become very important in the Ivory Coast. Many human rights violations are related to it. In the Ivory Coast the concept of nationality is being discussed by politicians and the head of state under the name of Ivoirite or Ivorian-ness. It was introduced by former President Bedie during the mid 1990s.

People, who were born in the Ivory Coast, but whose parents come from Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Guinea, are being denied the right to nationality. They are first generation but their parents are not considered nationals.

In the early 1900s Ivory Coast was part of the French Federation of West Africa. Burkina Faso was under the same administration and a high number of Burkinabe settled in Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast became very strong economically. More foreigners settled there and became foreign nationals. Some of these foreign nationals are now victims.

I have been in contact with some NGO's who have told me several stories about human rights abuses related to this.

The Right to a Passport

Some people have had their identity cards taken away from them; others have been imprisoned.

I met a girl, a young student, who wanted to study in Europe. She needed a passport in order to travel but it was denied to her. Her name is Fatyma. She was born in Ivory Coast; her mother is Ivorian and her father is from Guinea. According to the law, she is first generation Ivorian but she has had to prove that her mother is really her mother.

Her name sounds foreign to officials - it sounds Muslim - this is why she was denied her right... The north of Ivory Coast is mostly Muslim whereas the South has a large Christian population.

There is abuse of power in Ivory Coast and the law is applied in an arbitrary way. If an official wants to give you a passport, he will. If he doesn't, he won't. In Fatyma's case, the violation is not severe in the sense that she was not physically harmed.

Proof of Identity

I met Traore Mahmoud, a Muslim activist from the opposition party Rassenblement des Republicains, or Rally of Republicans. The government uses the issue of Ivoirite to exclude the opposition. The activist had an argument with a man who accused him of being a foreigner and having a false identity card. The police arrived and the man told them that the activist was not Ivorian. He was arrested and beaten.

One policeman allegedly put a gun to the activist's head and threatened him, "Say you are not Ivorian." The activist was many weeks in detention. After that, he was hospitalised.

Making a Difference

SOS Exclusion, an NGO which is close to the opposition party, intervened to help the activist. This organisation is fighting against this policy of exclusion.

The activist has not been able to retrieve his identity card.



Benin's Child Slaves

In Benin, I met children who worked on farms in Ivory Coast. It is very common. The children come from Togo, Benin, Gabon. They work on cocoa, coffee and rice farms. They come from poor families; some have been to school.

They are teenagers; some are younger. The child traffickers go to the villages and speak to the parents. They say, "We will take your child to Ivory Coast. He will work and learn a trade." The children work, never learn a trade and don't go to school. They are exploited.

The authorities in Benin are very aware of the situation. Last year, Benin appealed for international help to capture a boat full of child slaves from Benin. It was the first time in Benin that this problem received so much attention from the media. It put everybody on alert.

I met children who had worked on a rice farm in Ivory Coast. The authorities of Ivory Coast and Benin were informed of these child slaves. They reacted; they arrested the child trafficker and they sent the children back to their home in Benin.

Making a Difference

In Benin, during my visit, I also recorded a TV programme produced by Afrika Obota, an NGO. It's like a soap opera and is broadcast frequently. It showed exactly the same issue - child trafficking. There was a child in the programme that worked as a slave in a farm.

Parents have become increasingly aware of the problem, so has the government.

I talked to Claire Houngang Ayemona, Benin's minister of Family and Social Affairs. She's a lawyer, and she used to be an activist for Regard d'Amour, or A Gaze of Love, an NGO that worked in that field.

She said parents bear great responsibility for the trafficking of children as they often leave their children to be raised by others, in particular, people who live in urban areas.

Sometimes these people are related to the family or are even members of the family. They make promises; they say the child will go to school, will learn a job and will help the family earn money. Sometimes, they expect to earn money with the agreement.

And so, the parents give away their responsibilities, and do not try to know what is going on with the child.

Ms Houngang Ayemona also said that, nowadays, African governments, in particular Benin and its neighbours, are trying to fight child trafficking together and their ministers meet frequently to discuss measures to tackle the problem.

Despite this, she acknowledged that child trafficking is very difficult to prevent.