Two British teenagers have been provisionally charged with drug possession and drug trafficking in Ghana. Experts say Europeans, as well as pregnant women and minors, are increasingly being used by traffickers to smuggle drugs from West Africa to Europe. Selah Hennessy reports from the West Africa bureau in Dakar.
Two girls, Yasemin Vatansever, 16, and Yatunde Diya, 16, were arrested at Accra airport on July 2.
Officials at the airport say they had over five kilos of cocaine, worth around $600,000, found inside laptop bags the girls were carrying.
Beryl St. James, a spokeswoman for Britain's Revenue and Customs in London, says it is not uncommon to see Europeans used as drug couriers.
"The thing that is quite surprising is that they are young, but people being arrested from Europe is not unusual," she noted.
But Antonio Mazzitelli, the representative for West and Central Africa at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes, says their age is no surprise.
He says recent trends have shown that trafficking networks are using a broader range of so-called 'mules' to smuggle drugs into Europe.
"More and more traffickers use all kinds of couriers, minors or not," he explained. "Women, pregnant women, Europeans coming from East Europe or from West Europe. We should not be surprised to see minors or in the future why not even children being used for smuggling drugs."
Mazzitelli adds that as governments have become stricter on migration and illegal immigration, it has become harder for Africans to get visas. As a result Europeans are increasingly recruited by drug trafficking networks.
The international police organization Interpol has recently reported that drug trafficking has risen sharply in Africa, with the continent being used as a transit point for smugglers bringing drugs from Latin America to Europe.
According to an official, cocaine seizures totaling nearly 7,000 kilograms have been reported to Interpol by West African police forces during the last three months.
If found guilty, the British teenagers could face up to ten years in jail.