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Terre Des Hommes, community leaders discuss protection of Migrant Children in west Africa

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By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina

Atoye Mago came to Nigeria five years ago as a 15-year-old Togolese teenager. Distressed, wretched and abused, this young migrant was determined to rewrite her story and go all the way to break the yoke of poverty and stagnation that had held her family for years.

In pursuit of this dream, Mago eventually landed a housekeeping job for herself in Abeokuta, Ogun State, a job that was offered based on compassion because she lacked the basic qualifications, according to her employer.

Mago’s job was to take care of the home, her boss’s kids and sometimes follow her boss to her shop to attend to customers.

Five years down the line, Mago has not only integrated herself well enough, she has equally learned, saved some money and even acquired sufficient skills to start a small business of her own.

But  Mago’s employer is worried. In fact, she has cried out for help, seeking assistance on how to connect Mago’s parents or relatives on how to properly help the young lady structure a rewarding life.

Her concerns are two. One, Mago has grown into a young, beautiful and almost irresistible lady – something she is worried might come with a sour taste because of the sea of men that throng her daily.

To assist the young lady, her savings of N180,000 is being kept by her boss and the God-fearing woman even admitted her willingness to hand over the sum to Mago upon sighting her parent(s).

“ Today, I am pleased to tell you that we have responded to Mago’s boss’s distressed call,” Mrs. Peju Osoba, Head of Country Office for Nigeria  at Terre Des Hommes Foundation, the lead facilitator at the parley, told a recent gathering.

“After two weeks of painstaking search however, we have been able to connect with Mago’s family. And the matter is being sorted as we speak.”

Mago’s tale is somewhat related to that of Alfons Pemu, a 16-year-old Beninnoise teenager who migrated to Nigeria at 12, in search of greener pasture.

“It’s been four years since Alfons has been learning barbing in my shop here in Owode,” his boss told the gathering of Migrant Child Protection community actors, saying “his passion, dedication and honesty has distinguished him from other apprentices.”

After spending four years learning, Alfons has grasped the barbing skill up to a professional level, according to his boss. But there is a bottleneck; and that is the financial capital required to purchase the tools of his new trade, fund his graduation rites and procure a location for his own shop.

Alfons’ boss said the young man has confided in him that the financial requirement is a luxury he can’t afford as there is no one to come to his aide.

“He didn’t even pay for the enrolment fees too. I just took him in out of pity. He told me from the onset that there is nobody to come to his rescue except God. So, I allowed myself to be used by God to touch his life,” Alfons boss submitted, invoking the admiration and prayers of other stakeholders at the parley.

“Now in other for him to raise the money needed to procure the tools and probably some also rent a place for himself, I have enrolled him into one other instant paying menial job. He helps fruits suppliers offload from their trucks and get paid. The money he realizes, he deposits in daily contributions. And I also monitor him.

“This is the little way I think I can be of help. I would have done much more but I can’t afford it myself. But if help comes, I will be glad to”.

Mago and Alfons’ stories are a few of the many undocumented triumphs in the global efforts to help, protect and empower the Africa Migrant Child from the enormous dangers encountered in their mobility quests.

But sadly too, there is overwhelming statistics of unlucky, abused, violated and vulnerable ones who mostly won’t survive the death traps laid by traffickers, ritualists, slavers, killers and perpetual rapists enroute their journey.

It was in an attempt to appraise this situation that Terre Des Hommes Foundation organized the interactive session with “Livelihood Actors, Training Institutions, Education Actors, Government Departments and NGOs on the protection and empowerment of Child Migrants” recently at Arakat Resort in Badagry, Lagos.

In attendance at the forum were representatives of a handful of professional and vocational bodies, including the Tailors, Hairdressers, Barbers, Tillers, Shoe Cobblers, Motorcycle/Tricycle Riders, Traders, Carpenters, Bricklayers, Suppliers, Teachers, Private School Proprietors, the traditional institution, Immigration Service, State Government and NGO.

And in attendance is the Lagos State Government, represented by one of its agencies – Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), through Mr Adebisi Abubakar, the Director of Skill Development for the agency.

Valerie Nwabeke, the Organizational and Development Officer for Terre Des Hommes, said the primary objective of the gathering was to appraise the works of the community actors and volunteers alike.

Nwabeke stressed that “the general objective of this project is to improve the protection of migrant children across the West African countries, more especially along the corridor of Abidjan-Lagos, in order to reduce their vulnerability and to improve their access to development opportunities.

“To achieve this objective, the project aims among other things, to ensure that throughout their migration process, migrant children have access to the mechanisms of protection, thanks to the synergy and complementary actions of formal and informal actors in the areas of origin, transit and destination.”

Nwabeke’s submissions were corroborated by Mrs. Osoba, who informed the audience on her organisation’s ongoing three- year campaign for the protection, rehabilitation and economic reintegration of the Africa Migrant Children, tagged CORAL Project. CORAL Project is been funded by the European Union.

“Whenever we encounter migrant children, we should endeavor to first of all interrogate them,’’ she said. ‘’This will afford us the privilege into what they are running from, of which most are attributable to poverty, abuse and or threat to life. Therefore, we should lend a helping hand to these children and not constitute ourselves into another embodiment of danger to them.

“This is important because many of our children are migrating enmasse because of the aforementioned reasons.”

Osoba reiterated that “currently, Togo, Benin and Nigeria are working on a tripartite agreement that will exclusively focus on Child Migrant, though there were legal instruments existing previously, but it has so far worked for human trafficking alone.

“But this time around, the new agreement, will among others, address an improved protection and empowerment of the migrant children across the affected borders.

Speaking with CITYVOICE, other community actors narrated how they have been contributing their quota to the project; even without any external supports.

Chief Simeon Dansu, the Baale of Owode-Asheri, a border community between Lagos and Benin Republic, said in his individual capacity, he has been picking, dusting and giving new leases of lives to many Togolese migrant children in his areas.

“Not only that, there is a four-man standing committee I constituted to rehabilitate all roaming foreign and local migrant children across my community.

“Usually, we encounter many of the migrant children traveling into Nigeria. What we do is stop them, interrogate them and act accordingly to their needs.

“For instance, when we realize that a particular child doesn’t have a specific address he/she is headed, we try to investigate such a child. Often time, we take them to the Nigeria Immigration Service and later the Beninnoise counterpart to trace them.

“And what we usually find out is that most of them are running away from abuse, poverty and hopelessness. And the best we do is usually bring them back to our community, shelter them and enroll them for vocational works. Largely, our people have been supportive in this. But we need more support because the individuals that take in these children also have their own challenges too,” Dansu explained.

Mr Bokoh Alphonce, Chairman of the Union of Tailors, Enuko, Owode-Asheri Community added that “currently, I have five of such children learning tailoring in my shop.

“Out of the 27 apprentices that I currently have, more than half of them are foreigners from the neighboring countries. Out of this figure, five are indigent but determined teenagers who had to plead for enrolment, even without money for their registrations and other necessities. Most of these learners have now advanced their learning and ready for graduation. But there is no means to do that for them. This is where we are calling for more intervention; perhaps from the government or elsewhere,” he added.

Mr Ajigbe Elijah, former Coordinator of Proprietors of Private Schools in the Owode border town and the Badagry area also expressed willingness to volunteer “absolute or subsidized free enrolment into schools for the migrant children.

“For us in the business of private school, this is a good course. It is the duty of us all to get all the children educated, so as not to expose those educated to the implications of the ones left behind.

“Therefore, we are equally willing to be of assistance in this project, provided these children would be brought to us by the known stakeholders, with established contacts of their families and or guardians. And a guarantee that other children would be saved with them,” Elijah said.

Mr. Abidemi Oke, Project Officer for Center for Youth Integrated Development, noted that so far “irregular migration has continued to be a disturbing phenomenal because of its upward increment across the west African sub-region.

“From the secondary data we have taken, we have even noticed that most youth in Badagry here are also trooping out of this environment because they feel that there is nothing for their future here. And that is the feeling across the West Coast.

“But as part of our own intervention, we have been able to assist in empowering those that want to stay, educate those that want to travel to go through the border post and as well, assist in repatriating trapped Nigerians from Libya and Italy. This is a project we are doing with the Federal Government of Nigeria,” he added.

Lagos state official, Adebisi Abubakar informed the gathering of the state’s aggressive approach to dislodge poverty. He said the state has four vocational education and technical schools, standard institutions that can compete globally.

‘’What we do across these centers is to train young people in different technical and vocational skills that would make them economically independent and productive.In the same vein, we have dozens of registered vocational associations with the state government, all doing their bits to dislodge poverty from the metropolis.

“Therefore, as you all can see, the Lagos State  government appreciates what Terre Des Hommes is doing and other organisations and individuals. We will always be available to render assistance in any way possible in this quest.”