12 Years, a Slave

A child nightmare

Every year, between 100,000 and 200,000 kids are estimated to be trafficked from Benin to nearby Nigeria. Many of them are street kids snatched in Beninese markets by professional traffickers, who sell them for up to 100 U.S. dollars each. Some are actually sold to traffickers by their parents for as little as 30 U.S. dollars.

The majority of the kids end up working in slavery conditions for a Nigerian master, and never make it back to their homeland and family. Those who manage to escape are regularly entrusted by helpless Beninese authorities to the Don Bosco network of shelters, set up by the Salesians in the mid 1990s and the only organization in the country which actively deals with the issue.

When they talk about their years of slavery, the rescued kids tell chilling stories, which regularly include episodes of physical abuse and torture. July, a 19-year-old kid, recalls a recurring punishment: cuts would be opened in his feet soles with a razor blade, and the fresh wounds would then be sprayed with chili powder. But July and the many others like him might just be the lucky ones: several of the kids are not taken to Nigeria to work, but, according to all government sources, like the chief judge of Porto-Novo’s juvenile court, to be sacrificed, their heads and hearts used in traditional rituals of black magic.