BENIN: Children exploited as labor find safety and hope
4 Don Bosco Foyer centers provide support to children exploited in child labor
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries are working to give youth involved in child labor hope for a better future at four Don Bosco Foyer centers in Benin. Two are located in Porto-Novo, one in Cotonou and another in Kandi. Most of the youth in the program had left their poor families and were looking for work. Some parents had entrusted their children to craftsmen to learn a trade only to find that the children were treated like slaves. Other times, children are forced to work to help the family. All of these children have dropped out of school and face exploitation and abuse.
“It is an illusion that drags many minors into insecure contexts and so they end up living on the street. Our objective is to restore dignity to the child, to educate him so that he truly finds his place in the society, as a man created in the image and likeness of God,” explained Father Aurélien Ahouangbe, director of the Foyer Don Bosco in Porto-Novo in an interview with the Osservatore Romano and reported by Vatican News.
Don Bosco Foyer is a residential home for children coming directly from the street. Children’s most basic needs are met, including shelter, proper nutrition, clothing, and access to adults who help them feel safe and protected from the exploitation and violence many faced while living on the streets.
Don Bosco Foyer first provides psychological assistance when a child enters the program. Staff members work to understand the family or child labor issues facing each child. Then, children receive health care, food support, hospitality, housing, school reintegration and vocational training. Some young people study until their graduation while others receive skills training.
Fr. Ahouangbe is committed to combating child labor. To address the issue, Salesian missionaries in Benin have also built counseling kiosks in the markets and along national borders. These kiosks are monitored by teams of government officials, police officers and social workers who check the age and working and living conditions of minors. If they determine that the youth are under age 14 or that they are being mistreated, the minor is taken into Salesian care.
“We listen to them, accompany them into the community and look for their parents,” explained Fr. Ahouangbe. “We make the family aware of the laws that protect children and, if appropriate, we return their children to them and monitor them at home, ensuring their education and psychological assistance in case they have been mistreated.”
Children in Benin face significant challenges gaining an education within the country’s poor educational system. According to UNICEF, Benin remains one of the poorest countries in the world with close to 70 percent of its population living in poverty. About half of all children between the ages of 5-13 are engaged in some kind of forced labor in the country and almost 20 percent are chronically undernourished. Youth in Benin also face overwhelming challenges in combating poverty, one of the root causes of child trafficking.
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Salesian Missions – Benin
UNICEF – Poverty in Benin