Authorities and aid workers in Guinea say children in impoverished areas are increasingly being abandoned by their families, leaving them on their own, exploited as workers, or at the mercy of traffickers. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the capital Conakry, as well as Forecariah, near the border with Sierra Leone.
Eleven children recently rescued from suspected traffickers play in a courtyard under the supervision of aid workers from a non-profit group called Foyer de l'Esperance in Forecariah.
One seven-year-old girl in the group, Fatimata Soumah, nervously plays with a Barbie doll next to an aid worker who translates from the local language Susu into French.
Fatimata explains she likes this center, because she is able to play games, and learn to read and count.
She says there are mean adults outside the center, who steal children and even want to kill them.
Authorities say Fatimata was rescued from the clutches of her cousin, who is accused of trying to traffic the child to Sierra Leone after her boyfriend told her it would be a good way to make money. Authorities say they located Fatimata's parents, who signed a letter asking the center to keep her.
But another young girl here, Kadiatou Conte, who does not know her age, says if she had to choose between the center and her mother, she would choose her mother.
The problem is her mother is in jail in Conakry with three other women suspected of trying to sell her, her brother, and eight other children, all of them now here.
The trial has yet to begin, meaning the 10 children are in limbo. They pass time playing with toy cell phones.
Some adults came by the center, claiming to be their relatives or parents, but a judge has ordered DNA tests before any of the children are handed over.
The administrator of this center, Raphael Cekui Tea, a former priest, says families get very desperate for money, but that it is a shame this is taking place in Africa.
He says people usually live in tight communities, and that neighbors or relatives should help.
The top administrative official in Forecariah, Marie Guilavogui, initially took care of the 10 children, after she was called by police who had apprehended the women and children at a border crossing inside a van in the middle of the night.
Guilavogui says the government is trying to decentralize efforts to combat child trafficking, by placing experts in each region.
She says Forecariah is one of the worst affected areas, but that children face dire conditions across Guinea.
On the streets of the capital, residents say more children are living on the streets each night, like this boy, Mohamed Camara.
He says he begs from what he calls patrons, meaning bosses, who walk by, to have enough money to eat.
Asked how old he is, he says he is 12, but his body is very small.
He taps on his only possession, a cardboard box of old dates, he says he keeps in case he gets really hungry at night.
He says his parents are in a faraway village, but that he was taken away by an aunt.
Mohamed says she asked him to beg for her, but he ran away preferring to beg for himself.
He says he has heard stories of men coming at night, putting money on the ground, and that when a child bends down to pick up the money, he or she, he says, is transformed, in other words, disappears.
A roving band of street kids passes by, banging on boxes and buckets, singing the praise of the national soccer team which just beat Sudan in a friendly match.
One boy in the group explains it is a good way to get money. He says you have to be creative when you beg.
An official who coordinates activities between Guinea's government and the United Nations children's body, UNICEF, Manimam Conde, explains many of these children end up being coerced into becoming domestic workers, working in plantations or given platters to put on their heads and sell food in markets.
But there is much worse.
Conde says children are also victims of organ trafficking. He says they are dismembered and their body parts sold for medical purposes.
He says during traditional ceremonies, trafficked children are also sacrificed, killed in front of crowds.