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West African Children Trafficked, Abandoned to Streets

Children in West Africa are being trafficked at an alarming rate, often sold by their own families. Many of these children are then forced to work as manual laborers or as domestic servants without pay. Aid workers say poverty and the breakdown of traditional families are to blame. Kari Barber has this report from the West African nation of Guinea where the number of abandoned children, aid workers say, is on the rise.

Fifteen-year-old Hanna Soumah cleans vegetables to cook dinner for a family. But this is not her family, and she is not paid for her work. Hanna also cares for the children and does housekeeping.

Her parents gave her away when they could no longer afford to feed her.

Soumah explains, "My mother asked me to stay here to help earn money for myself and her. For myself I want to learn to sew so that I can have a skill for my future.“

Hanna says her work is hard. She says she suffers from migraines.

Children in forced labor often face abuse within families.

Aid worker Jeanne Ali says, “They do not go to school, they just work all day without a break, without anything to eat when they are hungry. The children become very sad, without hope."

Sorting his tools, Alia Camara says he is happy to be learning carpentry. He is 13.

He was given away by his family to a man on the day of his father's funeral. The man forced him to sell plastic buckets and pots.

An aid group for trafficked children then helped him find an apprenticeship at this carpentry shop.

Alia still is not paid, but says now he is learning a skill that can be valuable his whole life.

"Everyday I make a wooden door like this,” he said. “I just want to be a good worker. “

Alia says he does not have time for hobbies or school, his work is his life.

In the eastern town of Forecariah, at this center, abandoned children receive an education.

Fatimata Soumah is seven. Authorities say they rescued Fatimata from a cousin who was trying to sell her in Sierra Leone. When she was returned, Fatimata's parents asked the center to keep her and provide her a better life.

Administrator Raphael Cekui Tea says poverty is the reason parents sell their own children. "This is their idea, but I think in Africa this reason is not enough because we live in tight communities and when things are not going well for a family, they should be able to get help from their neighbors,” he said. “If that is no longer the case, it is very sad."

There is an increasing number of children on the streets of the capital Conakry. Many of them ran away from adults they had been sold to.

Abubakar and Alya Camara say they sleep together, eat together, do everything together, because they are afraid.

Aid workers say some abandoned children have been killed for their organs and in ritual ceremonies.

A police officer arrives as Ousmane Seesay begins to tell his story. "When I first came here I could have some daily bread, but now it is becoming too hard to have daily bread because now I can hear some grumbling,” he said.

Ousmane says recent political instability in Guinea is making life for street kids even harder.