In a series of raids supported by Interpol in February, the police rescued about 230 people in Niger, including children as young as ten and Ghanaian men recruited online and sold into slavery. Operation Sarraounia involved more than a hundred police officers carrying out raids over the course of ten days, during which they arrested eighteen people suspected of sexually abusing their victims or kidnapping children from families and forcing them to beg at bus stations and marketplaces. The majority of the victims were between the ages of ten and seventeen.
According to an Interpol statement, the young victims were returned to their families, with follow-ups to check on their physical and mental health provided by social services and NGOs. Many of those rescued required medical attention. It is not certain what will become of the 180 Ghanaian men who were promised work, only to be held captive in a house in the Nigerien capital of Niamey. The traffickers had confiscated their travel documents and said their future wages would be deducted to pay for transportation costs and employment commissions.
Why It Matters
Niger is a primary transit route for migrants making their way toward the north of Africa and on to Europe. This has made it a prime target for human traffickers as well. The victims of this latest raid demonstrate the particular vulnerabilities of children and teenagers to be swept up in sex trafficking and other forms of slavery, as well as how poverty and a reliance on the informal sector for many sub-Saharan African laborers endangers their lives when they pursue employment elsewhere. Trafficking flourishes in part due to weak state presence at border regions and a lack of oversight and institutions regarding the free movement of people. Successful actions like Operation Sarraounia offer glimpses of hope in the fight against trafficking, but the overwhelming nature of the migrant crisis, regional poverty, and growing influence of organized crime means that these raids can only address the symptoms. Worse, trafficking routes help fund rebel and terrorist groups that actively destabilize surrounding nations further, creating a cycle of desperation and violence.