WE BOUGHT BOY SLAVES' FREEDOM FOR Pounds 20 EACH; Filmmakers Expose Brutal Child Slave Trade on Cocoa Plantations

Article excerpt

Byline: LUCY LAWRENCE

CROUCHED together in a tiny outhouse, teenagers Oumarou and Aboubacar remain silent as a group of strangers check them over.

Once it's determined that the boys, aged just 19 and 17, are healthy and fit, pounds 40 is handed to the owner of the remote farm in the African countryside where they work for a pittance.

The transaction - set up by documentary filmmakers Brian Woods and Kate Blewett - exposes the ease in which desperately poor young people are being sold to cocoa plantation owners on the promise of a good wage and a better life.

In this case, Oumarou and Aboubacar were lucky. Having been "bought" by Woods and Blewett for pounds 20 each, they were subsequently found work on a farm which paid and cared for its workers.

Many thousands of others are not so fortunate - a fact brutally illustrated this week when a ship missing for four days off the coast of west Africa was found to be carrying a cargo of 31 child slaves.

Woods and Blewett discovered the frightening extent of this human trade on a trip to the Ivory Coast last year.

When they arrived in the country, which supplies almost 50 per cent of the world's cocoa, they linked up with a local contact who agreed to pose as a cocoa farm owner looking for workers.

"After a couple of days hanging around at the market and drinking a lot of coffee our contact found someone willing to sell him a couple of teenage boys," says Woods.

"One was 17 and the other 19, and they were offered at pounds 20 each. When we asked if the boys expected to be paid, the seller made it clear that it was of no interest to him. 'Pay them if you want to,' he told our man.

"The deal was done and the 'locateur' or trafficker drove with our contact to a remote farm, where he was directed to an outhouse. The two boys were waiting inside. He checked them over and then money changed hands. It was a cash transaction.

"When we got the boys away we asked them if they knew the risks of what they were doing. They told us that they had travelled from Mali because they needed work.

"Other boys had told them tales of slavery but they said they had to take the chance - it was that or starve. They were typical, there are thousands of young men so desperate for work that they will risk everything.

"We saved these two boys from slavery but it's estimated that up to 90 per cent of cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast could be exploiting workers. …