SOUBRÉ, Côte d’Ivoire – In an operation against child trafficking and exploitation, law enforcement authorities in Côte d’Ivoire operating with INTERPOL support have rescued 76 children believed to have been trafficked across West Africa for the purposes of illegal child labour.
Some 170 Ivorian law enforcement officers participated in Operation Nawa (6-17 February) in which gendarmes, police and forestry agents targeted cacao fields and illegal gold mines in five areas across the Soubré region. With the majority of the suspected child trafficking victims believed to originate from Burkina Faso and Mali, the operation led to the arrest and sentencing of eight traffickers – five men and three women.
Operation Nawa is the first of a series of planned INTERPOL transnational child trafficking operations focusing on the serious abuse of children subjected to slave-like conditions. Officers from INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau (NCB) in Abidjan coordinated the operation, which also involved INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Abidjan and specialist officers from INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation (HTCE) unit at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France.
The Head of INTERPOL’s NCB in Abidjan, Alain Angui Eboi, underlined ’the importance of concerted regional efforts via INTERPOL to get rid of traffickers’ and through initiatives such as Operation Nawa raise local and national awareness of illegal child labour. He called on regional bodies to support region-wide coordinated efforts.
With the operation divided into four phases – preparatory meeting, inspection of terrain, capacity building and operation, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services Jean-Michel Louboutin said: “Information gathered during Operation Nawa will help further identify and dismantle the criminal networks behind child trafficking and forced labour nationally and regionally. The operation highlights the need for law enforcement to collaborate at national, regional and international levels against such crimes.”
The rescued children were taken into care following the operation which received support from Côte d’Ivoire’s health, immigration and social affairs ministries, in addition to social workers and Dutch NGO KidsRights.
“Operation Nawa shows what can be achieved by coordinating resources and we would especially welcome input from industries who want to help remove child labour from their supply chains,” said Michael Moran, the Head of INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation (HTCE) unit.
”Police on the frontlines play a very important role in enforcing laws on human trafficking and forced labour. We need to get in there to support frontline officers in the region and give trafficked children a chance at education, a chance to live,” added Mr Moran
Follow-up action includes the development of best practices for HTCE operations in West Africa and the development of a regional West African programme and capacity building based on Operation Nawa.