There are an estimated 58,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Benin (GSI 2018). The country is an origin, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, primarily for forced labour and sex trafficking. Trafficking victims most often come from low-income families, and frequently lack formal education or basic identity documents including birth certificates and national identification. Internal trafficking primarily draws children from rural areas in the north to the urban south of Benin in search of economic opportunity. Children from Benin who are subjected to trafficking externally are transported to West and Central African countries. Some parents send children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities; a practice called vidomegon. Some of these children are subjected to domestic servitude. Children from neighboring countries are forced to labor on farms, in commercial agriculture (particularly in the cotton sector), in artisanal mines, at construction sites, or as street or market vendors in Benin.
Hada is from the prefecture of Blitta. He is typical of many boys who go with traffickers without the knowledge of their parents and end up in the plantations of Benin where they perform long hours of difficult, hazardous and unpaid labour.
I was 16 when I said to an older friend that I wanted a bike. He told me that for this I would have to go to Benin to work. I knew him well and I trusted him... [Later] he made other promises, most of all a radio-cassette player...
I told my younger brothers that I would go to Benin but did not tell them it was for the bike. I left one Tuesday in August... We went in a car and then we had to walk from 6.00 in the morning until 6.00 in the evening. In Benin, we worked for two weeks and my friend negotiated the payment and got the money... I wanted to go home to tell my parents [why I had left]. He told me that if I went home now my parents would not accept me. We went to Nigeria. That took us three days in a truck without food. There were soldiers on the road when we passed through the interior of the country. There were 200 of us. I wanted to go back but I had given my money to the traffickers for the transfer.
Upon our arrival we searched for the man who spoke Bassar and we found work in the fields. We worked from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. We ate only after we had finished the work. We stayed two years. My friend said we would get the money when we left. He bought a bike and a radio cassette player but he resold them because we had not worked enough [for us to get away]. We then worked again at Otou for eight months to buy the bikes. We [all the boys] were alone, and more or less all right; we even worked at night. When there was no moon, we made a fire with straw. I was afraid. When we did not finish the work [assigned during the day], we slept in the fields...
The boss never came; otherwise we would have asked him for the money. The other one who came used to beat us with a stick. I was sad and felt very lonely. I was thinking about my situation and about Papa. I used to cry, and wondered what to do to get back home.
We were able to buy the bikes and we went by bike into the bush. We were pedalling for three weeks; there were 65 of us altogether. One of us died during the trip; the bike fell on him.
I left in 1999. I returned in 2002. I regret that I left; I used to reproach myself. When I arrived my father asked: “Who’s there?” “It’s me, I am ill because of riding too much on the bike.” I kept on dreaming about the kid who died, but this is over now. But sometimes I feel isolated, vulnerable. I cannot go on living like this. If I could find work, that would be good. I talk to my friends and tell them to stay here.
I have changed. I have learnt many things about myself. I am calmer. Over there, what consumed me most was the wish to go home. And what I missed most was my family.
As told to researchers for Plan International in their report ‘For the Price of a Bike: Child Trafficking in Togo’.