Police authorities in Nigeria have rescued 17 suspected victims of human trafficking, including a nine year old, from a bus which crossed the Nigerian border from Benin. Two suspects arrested by the police say the boys were being taken to the southwestern state of Oyo, to work on a farm.
Trafficked from Togo and Benin where most of their families face harsh living conditions, the victims were rescued at the border town of Seme by the police.
Authorities say they received intelligence that a human trafficking ring, which preyed on vulnerable children in neighboring West African countries, had plans to bring a group of boys, aged between nine and 17, to Nigeria, and into bonded labor.
According to the spokesman for the police in Lagos, Frank Mba, investigations are ongoing. He said the police had concerns about the young age of the victims.
"About 17 of them were rescued. They are all young chaps and they were purportedly being taken to a village in Oyo state for the purposes of engaging them in farming," he said. "We are still investigating the matter. We have tried to interrogate the two key suspects we have arrested. Those ones say they were taking to Gbaji, in Oyo state and that they were meant to work in a farm and they will be paid. But we were worried because of the age bracket of most of the boys."
Human right organizations say cross-border human trafficking, especially of women and children, is widely prevalent in West Africa either for sex trade or other forms of exploitation.
The United Nations say between 200,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked every year in the sub-region, one of the poorest in the world.
Rights groups say rural families often send their children to work willingly, as a way to escape poverty.
Last month, the Nigerian police intercepted a truck in the northern state of Niger conveying 245 children. A suspect arrested over the incident said the children were being taken to an Islamic school.