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Mali: COVID-19 and conflict lead to rise in child trafficking

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Women walk on the street in Timbuktu, Mali. MINUSMA/Blagoje Grujic

Child trafficking is rising in Mali, along with forced labour and forced recruitment by armed groups, due to conflict, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. 

Some 230 cases of child recruitment were reported during the first half of the year, compared with 215 cases for the whole of 2019, according to a UNHCR-backed study. 

Armed groups are also trafficking children to work in gold mines, with the profits being used to fuel the arms trade and finance violence, the agency added.   

Meanwhile, adults operating in the mines are subjected to extortionate “taxes”. 

Worst forms of abuse 

“As a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.  

“Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off. Many more children are at risk in the Sahel, a region which is becoming the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.” 

Overall, an estimated 6,000 children, mainly boys, were found working across eight mining sites in Mali, according to UNHCR child protection assessments.   

These youngsters are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, economic exploitation, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse. 

Working to pay off bogus ‘debt’ 

Some children arrived at the mine sites on “credit”, meaning a third party had financed their transport and food, while others said they worked for days without being paid.  They are expected to work for an unspecified time until they pay of their “debt”. 

Additionally, UNHCR said reports of communities of women and girls being abducted, sexually assaulted and raped, have been received from the Mopti region in central Mali, with more than 1,000 cases recorded so far this year.   

The agency fears child marriage will also inevitably increase in a country where an estimated 53 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18. 

Trafficked in transit 

The victims of these crimes are Malians, but also refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.  

Despite the conflict, and COVID-19 movement restrictions, UNHCR said Mali remains a key transit country for people attempting to reach northern Africa and Europe. 

Some of these “people on the move” are trafficked for forced labour in the agriculture sector, while others, particularly women, are trafficked on the way to promised jobs in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Others are diverted to the capital, Bamako, or to mining or agricultural areas where they are forced to engage in so-called survival sex.  

UNHCR said traffickers and their accomplices range from the echelons of organized crime and outlawed armed groups, tribal chiefs or state authorities, but can even include parents, relatives or community members.  

The agency continues to press for greater support for efforts to prevent and respond to trafficking, to protect those at risk, and to provide assistance to victims while also ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice. 

However, insufficient funding threatens these efforts, according to a recent report.

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Africa Today

Joining hands to strengthen food safety knowledge in West Africa

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In the context of the Guinea-Bissau component of the European Union-funded West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP), implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), 30 Bissau-Guineans  received training on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System, HACCP, and on the ISO standard for Food Safety Management System, ISO 22000.

This virtual training was made available to all those participating in the WACOMP, which allowed additional 30 people to benefit from the training. The 60 participants who attended the training came from nine countries in the region: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia and Togo.

In his opening remarks, Christophe Yvetot, UNIDO’s representative to Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Cabo Verde and Mauritania, emphasized that the “training sessions on HACCP and ISO 22000 are crucial to provide capacity-building in the fields of food safety assurance and management for people responsible for performing conformity assessment activities, and technicians involved in food safety and quality.”

The WACOMP Programme is funded through a €116m contribution under the 11th European Development Fund and includes one regional and 16 country components. The objective of the programme is to strengthen the competitiveness of West African countries and enhance their integration into the regional and international trading system. UNIDO has been entrusted with the implementation of the WACOMP regional component, as well as six country components, namely The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, and a component of the one for Cabo Verde. With a portfolio of €29m, UNIDO is the main implementing agency of the WACOMP.

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Somalia recognizes decent work for women and men

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Somalia has become the second country in Africa to ratify international labour standards seeking to end violence and harassment in the world of work. 

The Somali Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Duran Farah, presented the instrument of ratification of the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190)  to ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

He also presented the ratification instruments of the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144) ; the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) ; the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187 ); the Migration for Employment (Revised) Convention, 1949 (No. 97) ; the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143) ; and the Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 (No. 181) .

The seven Conventions are the first ratifications by Somalia since 2014 and bring to 26 the total number of Conventions Somalia has ratified.

“I welcome the deposit of these seven key ILO instruments. They mark the desire of the Somali people for peace, stability and good governance and their resilience in insisting democracy delivers on its promise” said Guy Ryder.

He highlighted the importance of continuous dialogue, patience, compromise and strong legal, political and civic institutions to nurture peace and guide democracy, as illustrated by Somalia’s ratification of Convention No. 144.
“Promoting peace, preventing conflict, enabling recovery and building resilience often start at the workplace” Guy Ryder added. “With the early ratification of Convention No. 190, Somalia recognizes the critical importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in promoting peace.”

Convention No. 190 calls on ratifying States to respect, promote and realize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment and to this end adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach for the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.

The Somali Minister stressed the importance of the moment. “As a member state of the ILO, the Somali government is committed to enforcing the international labour organization’s Constitution and standards to promote social and economic justice and uphold internationally recognized human and labour rights. Somalia, over the years, has ratified numerous conventions essential to improving labour standards in its domestic economy, and the recently approved conventions were a Government priority crucial for the reforms, regulatory laws, policies, and frameworks in implementing the National Development Plan.”

With the support from ILO, social dialogue and tripartism have been embraced by tripartite constituents in recent years. A conducive working relationship based on consensus, confidence and trust building between the government and trade unions has enhanced social peace in Somalia and opened the door for the establishment of the first formal tripartite structure, the Somali National Tripartite Consultative Committee to deal with labour issues including policies of relevance to the post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction, including a new Labour Code, National Employment Policy, Social Protection Policy and National Development Plan, all anchored in the ILO Decent Work Agenda.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the ILO Director-General thanked H.E. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the Federal Government of Somalia, led by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and Somalia’s workers and employers organizations for their “commitment to the rights of working men and women, as set out in ILO instruments.”

The seven Conventions will enter into force in Somalia on 8 March 2022.

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Climate change link to displacement of most vulnerable is clear

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Weather-related crises have triggered more than twice as much displacement as conflict and violence in the last decade, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday.

Coinciding with Earth Day on Thursday 22 April, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, published data showing how disasters linked to climate change likely worsen poverty, hunger and access to natural resources, stoking instability and violence.

“From Afghanistan to Central America, droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather events are hitting those least equipped to recover and adapt”, said the UN agency, which is calling for countries to work together to combat climate change and mitigate its impact on hundreds of millions of people.

Since 2010, weather emergencies have forced around 21.5 million people a year to move, on average.

Home countries worst hit

UNHCR said that roughly 90 per cent of refugees come from countries that are the most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

These countries also host around 70 per cent of people internally displaced by conflict or violence.

Citing the case of Afghanistan, UNHCR noted that it is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, as nearly all of its 34 provinces have been hit by at least one disaster in the past 30 years.

The country is also ranked the least peaceful globally, owing to longstanding conflict that has killed and injured thousands of people and displaced millions.

Chronic floods, droughts

Recurring floods and droughts – along with population growth – have compounded food insecurity and water scarcity and reduced the prospects of refugees and IDPs being able to return to their home areas, UNHCR said.

It pointed to indications that 16.9 million Afghans – nearly half of the country’s population – lacked enough food in the first quarter of 2021, including at least 5.5 million facing emergency levels of food deprivation.

As of mid-2020, more than 2.6 million Afghans were internally displaced and another 2.7 million were living as registered refugees in other countries, mainly Pakistan and Iran, according to UNHCR.

Mozambique is experiencing a similar confluence of conflict and multiple disasters, says the agency, with one cyclone after another battering the country’s central region while increasing violence and turmoil to the north displaces hundreds of thousands of people.

Hosts hit too

Many of the countries most exposed to the impacts of climate change are already host to large numbers of refugees and internally displaced.

In Bangladesh, more than 870,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar are now exposed to increasingly frequent and intense cyclones and flooding. 

“We need to invest now in preparedness to mitigate future protection needs and prevent further climate caused displacement,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, earlier this year.

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