The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has launched an initiative to raise regional awareness of human trafficking, especially children. Gilbert da Costa reports that the plight of children in the impoverished region has been in focus as Africa this week marks the day of the child.
Child trafficking is widely prevalent in West Africa, whether for the sex trade or other forms of exploitation.
Henrietta Didigu is an ECOWAS official responsible for issues relating to children in the region.
"The U.N. says about 4 million people are being trafficked all over the world, and out of this, you have between 200,000 and 800,000 being trafficked in the sub-region alone. That is what we have presently," she said.
The root causes of child trafficking in West Africa have been traced to poverty. But experts say gender discrimination and instability or conflict are also factors underlying the practice.
Didigu says authorities in the region are now responding to the challenges posed by child trafficking by providing resources to victims and by arresting and prosecuting offenders.
"Eleven out of 15 of our member states have ratified the relevant international conventions on the fight against trafficking in persons," she added. "Most of our member states have legislation against trafficking. All of our member states have established national task forces; their responsibility is to develop national action plans."
Didigu says these steps are a sign that the states of West Africa are determined to fight what the United Nations Children's Fund describes as one of the gravest violations of human rights in the world.