“Please Europeans, our children are not for sale”

In late October, Qatar-based blogger Abdurahman Warsame wrote about on the alleged kidnapping of 103 kids from villages in Chad to be sold to French families.

Pascal Fletcher of Rutgers reports, “The sight of frightened, bewildered children torn from their homes by wars or poverty is one of the most recurringly haunting faces of Africa. [The case has] touched raw nerves on the continent, where trafficking of minors is still widespread and the slave trade is remembered with horror.

The county of Chad (borders Sudan, DRC and Libya) held nine French nationals and the Spanish crew of a chartered plane in the eastern town of Abeche on suspicion of kidnapping. The charity known as Zoe’s Ark was stopped from flying 103 the children to Europe on October 25th. The large majority of the children are assumed to be between three and five years old, with the oldest about eight or nine, and several babies no more than one and a half. Chad says they had no authorization to take the infants and have charged the NGO and their crew with abduction and fraud and face possible forced labor terms of up to 20 years if convicted.

Zoe’s Ark denied claims that they planned to sell the children for adopting, arguing that they were given statements from tribal leaders stating that the children were Darfuri orphans with no known relatives. However, the staff from the UN children’s agency Unicef said that many of the children who were kept in an orphanage in Abeche, cried at night for their parents, saying they are from villages in Chad.

The UN as well as France’s Foreign Ministry doubt this claim, commented that many of the kidnapped children were living with adults they considered parents and were from Chadian-Sudanese border region. Despite the insistence that the children were taken only after investigation, French television channel M-6 aired a documentation from Marc Garmirian the television journalist who accompanied the Zoe Ark aid workers, showing “investigations” that demanding very little details or even the most basic documentation.

The kidnapping masked as a noble rescue mission carried concern for Garmirian as well who expressed doubts about the group’s methods, commenting that the “amateurism had dramatic consequences for the children.” Even with this statement, Marc still insisted that the children were never in any danger and continued to film. Marc further commented that “They remained convinced of the legitimacy of the mission that they gave themselves, that is to free orphans from the war in Darfur.” Zoe Ark workers argued that they were simply trying to help endangered children get medical treatment. Despite this insistence, a BBC reporter said the children appeared to be in good health

The French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, Rama Yade, said: “I can understand the families, the French families who wanted to save children. But I don’t understand why an association decided, alone, to bring them to Paris. That’s why we completely disapprove of this initiative.” Interestingly, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights disapproves of kidnapping, but not of the savior attitude–the assumption that the only way to help children in Africa is by removing them from their homes, and placing them with French families in a society where immigrants are no widely excepts and where assimilation is practically mandated.

Chad President Idriss Deby commented,

“Their aim is to kidnap the children from their parents, to steal the children from their parents and sell them to paedophile organisations in Europe, and even perhaps to kill them and sell their organs.”

Congolese blogger Alex Ngwete criticizes President Idriss Deby’s “exploitation” of the alleged kidnapping for his own political means, commenting,

“Chadians are cheering their president for having thumbed his nose at the whites, all the while forgetting about the ongoing rebellion and the government’s lack of transparency in managing the oil royalty revenues.”

While prominent Chandian opposition politician Ngarlejy Yorongar may not agree with Idriss Deby’s continued post as president, he agreed with Deby arguing,

“The slavers of yesterday are modernizing their methods … Today, Europeans pass themselves off as dubious humanitarians, (saying) ‘we’ve come to save your children from certain death’ and hup, they’re taken away.”

The debate has been addressed on international radio and TV shows with one caller, Lynette asserting, “I think Zoe’s Ark were clumsy but they can’t be completely condemned,” Of course, her comment was colored by the fact that she said her family was one of those planning to foster a child and paid over 2,000 euros ($2,900) as a “donation” to cover logistics and reception costs.

“Please Europeans, out children are not for sale” is what Okeke Cyprian from Mauritania wrote in an e-mail to the BBC “Have Your Say” Website in response to the attempted kidnapping of 103 children from villages in Chad.

Mah Estela from Cameroon wrote in to the same site with a starkly different view testifying,

I will gladly give out my child for adoption (rather) than for her to die of starvation, malnutrition, lack of medical attention … or for her to be uneducated…The Chadian government is making loud noise now, but they did nothing to provide a better future for those kids … Africa wake up and face reality.”

Some of the children said that they were lured from their homes with offers of sweets and biscuits. The parents of these children went to look for their missing children and said that foreigners came to the border villages promising education opportunities. The parents were persuaded to take them into local towns, but the parents asserted they they never imagined their children were being taken to France.

UNODC’s representative in West Africa, Antonio Mazzitelli said that trafficking in conflict regions is very high. In particular, trafficking of children in West Africa often took advantage of a cultural tradition of placing children outside the home to secure them better education and jobs.

Zoe’s Arc seemed to be aware of this tradition and exploited the opportunity.

“We see families handing over kids to third persons, mostly relatives, but also to others who promise to educate them and offer work. But it has become more and more business-oriented and exploitative…There are cases of people going from village to village promising they will give the kids an education and jobs … and then they put them into forced labor,” said Mazzitelli.

On November 4th, three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants were released Sunday and flew home with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had met with Chad’s president Idriss Deby. Chad president Idriss Deby stated on television he hoped the flight crew and journalist would be released. Despite all of France’s moral posturing, Zoe’s Ark chief Eric Breteau said: “The French government let us down. They even made it worse for us.” He insisted that the French government had known about their operation.” However, France continues to distance itself from the scandal and Zoe Ark’s continues to blame lying tribal leaders. Marie-Agnes Peleran, one of the released French journalist said the Zoe’s Ark members “are idealists but not criminals.” The NGO workers are still being held.

Even though three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants were released, Chad is placing “preliminary controls on all non-governmental organizations in the country.” Foreign Minister Ahmad Allam-Mi commented, “We are planning to take a census to know who is here legitimately and to ask those who are not to put their papers in order.”

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Published on November 22, 2007 at 2:26 pm. 32 Comments.
Filed under Africa,history,news/politics.