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19.09.2017 - News

Ecuador: The leap to slavery of the children of Cotacachi

Human trafficking for labour exploitation persists in Cotacachi, a corner of the province of Imbabura in Ecuador. The extreme poverty conditions of the local rural communities encourage parents to send their children to work. In exchange for their children, they are promised a payment that is not always received. But worrying new modalities of trafficking are being detected: children get kidnapped in public spaces and parks without their parents' knowledge. Terre des hommes (Tdh) tackles this issue at its roots and works on the prevention of trafficking.

When the city turns silent

Cotacachi is the fourth largest district of the province of Imbabura, but on a Friday in late summer, it remains silent. An image in stark contrast with the joyful weekends of fairs and sales of leather crafts in the city of colourful houses. It is a place made for tourism, without any tourists. From its centre, you get a privileged view on the immense rurality, where dozens of indigenous communities live, whose main occupation is to provide food to the area. 80% of the population of the district is concentrated there and most of them are between 5 and 19 years old. In their parishes, the lack of basic needs reaches worrying levels. Affected by illiteracy and scarcity of basic services, Cotacachi has turned into a fertile ground for one of the most invisible and unpunished crimes in the country: trafficking in children and adolescents.

The leap to slavery

Education is a privilege and child labour is part of daily lives. That is why, when a recruiter offers to give children education, the proposal is very tempting. But it is, in reality, a hoax. When a child is kidnapped, his or her situation becomes a mystery for the family. Once they reach their destination in the major cities of the country or abroad to Colombia, Chile and Brazil, the children are mistreated, sexually abused, and abandoned to themselves.

A summer camp to make children aware of risks

Given the absence of fairs in the city, there is no reason for the communities to go to the urban area. The centre might as well be described as a ghostly place if not for the murmur that comes from a local school. A hundred children are gathered in the arena where they just spent a week of camp. For five days, they had played and sung. In these spaces, the children of Cotacachi could find a little distraction from the chores at home and the hard work that they have to perform since an early age. They also talked about their problems. More than one spoke of mistreatment. More than one told that soon he or she will undertake a trip abroad, perhaps without return. The mentors of each group monitored the children and identified possible cases of trafficking and ill-treatment for their respective follow-up.

Terre des hommes organises these camping activities twice a year together with Unorcac, the Union of Peasant and indigenous Organisations of Cotacachi. We seek to prevent human trafficking through theatre, cinema and recreation and teach the children to recognize the risks to which they are exposed. More than 5000 children and adolescents have attended our activities in Cotacachi, including the summer camps.

Photo credits: ©Tdh/Luis Arguello