Restoring Hope for Victims of Trafficking
It’s hard to imagine that child trafficking exists. But every day around the world, children are being robbed of their innocence. Profound poverty—combined with little or no protection for children’s rights—creates a culture of modern-day slavery in which literally millions of innocent girls and boys become victims of a heartbreaking reality with no means to escape.
In Benin, dedicated Salesian missionaries are working to give these victims hope for a better future at Foyer Don Bosco centers in four locations across the country.
It is estimated that half of all children between the ages of 5 and 13 in Benin are engaged in some form of forced labor. They endure long hours, harsh conditions, and heinous abuse—with little attention paid to their health or well-being. Many of these youth leave their impoverished families on a quest to find work. Some have parents who entrusted them to craftsmen so they could learn a valuable trade—only to later discover that their children are treated as slaves. Other children simply must work to help the family. And none of them are able to attend school.
“It is an illusion that drags many minors into insecure contexts, only to end up living on the street,” explains Father Aurélien Ahouangbe, director of Foyer Don Bosco in Porto-Novo. “Our objective is to restore dignity to children, and to educate them so they truly find their place in society.”
At two centers—one in Cotonou, and one in Kandi—Salesian missionaries take a holistic approach to helping these innocent victims turn their lives around.
Rescue and rehabilitation
Foyer Don Bosco provides residential homes for girls and boys arriving directly from the street. Each center ensures that the children’s most basic needs are met by providing safe shelter, proper meals, clothing and access to the help they need to feel safe and protected.
Because of their physical and psychological traumas, many children arrive at these centers feeling angry and depressed. That’s why the staff works to understand each child’s individual family and labor-related issues, and provides psychological assistance to match. When ready, youth can resume their traditional education or enroll in vocational training opportunities.
Reunification and advocacy
When conditions are amenable, specially-trained staff work with parents and children to rebuild trust, overcome societal norms and pressures, and ultimately succeed in reunification.
“The best future for a child is to live with his or her family,” says Father Timothy Ploch, interim director of Salesian Missions. “Even if the parents are poor, they love their children. And it is that love, and a family atmosphere, that can really help them thrive.”
In addition to these intensive family services, Salesians in Benin are involved at the macro level to effect meaningful change on behalf of at-risk youth. Under Fr. Aurélien’s watch, for example, our missionaries built counseling kiosks in and near the cities where our centers are located. Youth who are under the age of 14, or are being mistreated, are referred to Foyer Don Bosco for care. “We listen to them, accompany them into the community and look for their parents,” Fr. Aurélien says. “We make the family aware of the laws that protect children and, if appropriate, we return their children to them and monitor them at home.”
This work extends far beyond Benin, too. Salesian missionaries serving in more than 130 countries are committed to preventing human trafficking, and to caring for victims who are living on the streets and seeking a second chance in life.
Learn more about our work in Benin.
Our mission rescues, heals and educates victims of child trafficking so they may envision brighter futures free from the chains of slavery. What’s your mission?