Our recent blog post ‘Child trafficking in Ethiopia’ highlighted the danger faced by all orphans and vulnerable children. Gondar’s location close to the Sudanese border makes our local children particularly at risk. This is the shocking account of our recent face-to-face encounter with a suspected child trafficker.
With the smell of freshly roasted coffee circulating our phone rang.
“Did you know Adem is leaving Gondar?”
“He and another boy going to America with a man they just met”
My heart sank. This is a common trick.
Many - I’m even inclined to say the vast majority of – people in Ethiopia, see America as a promised land where everyone has a life of luxury. It comes as no surprise that poor families are willing to let their children go away with a stranger with a promise of a better life in the US. It is the honey-trap.
We raced to Adem’s house. There is no way this is legitimate I told myself. I’d recently been written a blog on child trafficking in Ethiopia and read too many stories about the lies of schooling and a better life in other countries used to deceive children and their families.
When we arrived Adem was there as was the man wanting to take him to the US. As Nigisti spoke to the children, I started talking to the ‘man from Sudan’ in the most unaccusing way I could muster. In all honesty playing dumb trying to solicit more information from him; Adem and his friend Robel might not be the only ones.
“Are you the man who wants to take the boys to America?”
“Yes” he replied
We talked in English for several minutes. It transpired he was from Sudan and wanted to help the boys and their families. They had helped him after a series of unfortunate events had happened to him leaving him with very little money, so he was going to take the boys with him. I was a long way from being convinced. Wherever you are in the world it is still very unusual to take a family’s child after knowing them less than 2 days.
I enquired more about how he intended to take them to the US. It soon transpired he had no US passport or even a visa. I informed him that it would be almost impossible to take a child to the US without being a citizen. He replied he knew people in the Embassy and it might take some time to sort out, which he admitted might take months.
“What happens if you don’t get a visa for them?”
“I know a man at the Embassy” he repeated
“I’m not sure it works like that. What happens if they don’t get a visa? What will they do in the meantime? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the boys with their families until you do get a visa arranged?"
“I hadn’t thought of that” he said
At this point his story started to become inconsistent and I’d started to become agitated. He finally tried a complete about turn saying that it was a misunderstanding and he wasn’t taking the boys anywhere. Their bags were already packed.
I told him about the stories just like this used to lure children away. As soon as they are across the border the illusion is shattered; the kids are beaten savagely to establish fear and control. Now in a country they don’t know, where they don’t speak the language, don’t trust the police, their misery begins.
We walked this suspicious character to the police station where he was held for the night but not before the police had ridiculed the children for being so ignorant.
It’s hard to explain what happened the following day. The families tried to defend the man who they believed to be taking their sons to a better life. They accused us of trying to limit their opportunities, despite recently arranging school sponsorship for Adem. They still believed he was going to take the boys to the US.
Despite the inconsistencies in his story the Police Inspector was dismissive. The man from Sudan was freed.
We could not be in a position to judge this man. He might have been honestly and very naively trying to help them. We don’t know, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Rollin, a volunteer and David a helpful local from Gondar spent the next two days informing as many children as possible about the threat posed by child traffickers and the methods they use.
We intend to start an awareness programme this year to tackle the problem, using drama, role play and retelling stories of affected children. If you can please pledge you support to our causes by donating to our child trafficking awareness programme.