On June 1st, Plan International USA was granted $2 million in funds to aid child trafficking survivors in Burkina Faso. The project, aptly named Strengthening Assistance for Child Trafficking Survivors, is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Plan International USA is joining forces with a local NGO in Burkina Faso, The Keoogo Association, to implement this much needed undertaking.
The project to end child trafficking
Strengthening Assistance for Child Trafficking Survivors aims to not only assist those victims of child labor and sex trafficking but also to stop it from happening in the first place. Dr. Tessie San Martin, President and CEO of Plan International USA, states, “due to underfunded education systems, poverty and a lack of employment opportunities, children in Burkina Faso are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, forced labor and recruitment by armed groups.”
The project begins by focusing on the most at-risk children ages 10 to 18 in Cascades, Boucle de Mouhoun, and the more Northern regions of the country. Among the many goals of the project are reintegration infrastructure for survivors, awareness campaigns, collaboration with community leaders and advocates, social movements integrated into local child protection networks and efforts, improved hotlines, a condensed services directory, and accessible legal aid for all who need it.
Michelle Van Akin, a Disaster Risk Manager at Plan International USA, explains that to tackle and prevent child trafficking in Burkina Faso the whole child and their individual circumstances need to be addressed. These include their “individual capacities…communities they live in, and the regional and national government systems that protect their rights.” It seems that to accomplish this, the entirety of the Burkina Faso context needs to be examined.
The leaders behind helping survivors and prevention
Plan International USA is a global organization focused on improving the lives of children and girls most in need. They’ve reached over 1.2 million children in 75 countries and are most certainly not stopping there. Their goal of changing the lives of 100 million girls by 2022 is achievable, especially when viewed from their strategic perspective of progress.
Equality needs to exist from the laws to the communities themselves, and they are fighting from every angle to accomplish this. As so poignantly put by Plan International USA themselves, “This is our movement. This is our moment.” As large an organization as they are, they ensure the local voices themselves are the loudest and most powerful throughout their campaigns and projects.
The Keoogo Association has been providing medical and psychosocial care to vulnerable children, specifically in street situations, in Burkina Faso since its founding in 2004. “Initially national, Keoogo’s actions now transcend Burkinabè borders with the implementation of the support mechanism of the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children (RAO).”
Aligned with Plan International’s holistic approach, Keoogo addresses all facets of what makes a child vulnerable, how to best aid them in the present, and what needs to be done to ensure their future success.
Child trafficking in Burkina Faso
Laws against child sex and labor trafficking, as well as repatriation support, case management, and reintegration resources, exist in Burkina Faso. The Ministry of Women in particular is fighting tirelessly with awareness campaigns, debates, hotlines, and “capacity-building workshops.” However, the overall coordination between governmental bodies, active legal enforcement, and preventative measures are lacking.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “The [Burkina Faso] Government has established laws and regulations on child labor, including its worst forms.” They’ve also ratified all relevant child labor international conventions. “However, gaps exist in Burkina Faso’s legal framework to adequately protect children from child labor.”
Although recent improvements have been made, such as law enforcement and community training, international organizations and local NGOs are taking on most of this battle themselves. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Burkina Faso, this “hybrid-NGO working group for child protection” is comprised of subcommittees “responsible for intercepting traffickers and identifying victims.” Yet, the resources needed to implement change are poorly funded and scarce to begin with.
Addressing pre-trafficking conditions, especially in a COVID-19 context, is a necessary yet difficult step in preventing child trafficking. The rising rates of child trafficking by violent extremist groups have increased children’s overall vulnerability even within the circumstances of governmental and legal progress. As is unfortunately common, young girls feel the impacts of these socio-culturally integrated conditions the most.
One in 22 women die from maternal causes, 36% of girls cannot attend school, and other pre-trafficking conditions (i.e., unemployment, poverty, lack of education and healthcare access, etc.), remain prevalent and engrained in Burkina Faso. The recent rise in gold mining is another massive contribution to child trafficking and many young women are lured across borders to Burkina Faso to be both labor trafficked and prostituted.
This is where the gap between law and reality becomes apparent. For example, The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion publicly denounced early marriage in February of 2020 and the legal age for girls is now 17. Yet, half of all girls will be married before 18, legally or otherwise.
Addressing problems like child marriage requires financial backing and the current infrastructure is thinly stretched. The Strengthening Assistance for Child Trafficking Survivors project is a prime example of the listening, organizing, and implementing of necessary change that will work to put an end to the inhumane practices of child trafficking in Burkina Faso.