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UN to Toughen Enforcement of Child Trafficking

A U.N. sponsored conference starting Wednesday in Gabon is aiming to toughen law enforcement against child trafficking. Government ministers from 14 countries in West and Central Africa will be tackling this persistent problem.

The U.N. children's agency and the International Labor Organization say they want to toughen legislation prohibiting child trafficking in West and Central Africa during the two-day conference in Gabon.

The U.N. agencies say that child trafficking is taking place within countries and across borders. Millions of children, they say, are forced to work as domestics, vendors, prostitutes, or as field laborers, often under coercion without respect for their basic rights.

UNICEF spokeswoman, Wivina Belmonte says a U.N. organized conference on child trafficking two years ago, simply did not go far enough in tackling the problem. She explains what the participants now hope to achieve. "What is new is the kind of focus they are bringing to the issue of child trafficking," she said. "They know from experience that they need laws that are regional law, that they can apply regionally, because there are children who are spirited from Benin and taken to another country. There are ways of attacking that within the country, but if there are not laws and there is no political will or political commitment to attack it regionally, you just do not get anywhere."

Ms. Belmonte says that one of the tools to help prevent child trafficking is training for tougher border security checks. "A border guard has to be able to challenge an adult who is going across a country with a child, if the papers are not right," said Wivina Belmonte. "Part of what we do is train border guards. How do you find out if a child if really with an adult that they know and what does the guard himself, the police themselves, do when the situation looks dodgey? That is the challenge at that level."

UNICEF says that trafficking networks are often informal and secretive, making identification extremely difficult.

It says that poverty plays a major role in child trafficking. Families, who see no educational or economic opportunities at home, may place their children with people they believe will provide better prospects. Instead, UNICEF says these people see children as a cheap and submissive form of labor.