Protection and Rehabilitation: Kekeli Center’s mission against child labor.

The World Day Against Child Labor, celebrated every June 12, reminds us of the global imperative to eradicate child labor in all its forms. According to the ILO/UNICEF report entitled. “Child Labor: Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the Way Forward.” 160 million children worldwide – 97 million boys and 63 million girls – were in child labor at the beginning of 2020. This figure represents nearly 1 in 10 children globally, and of these, 79 million are engaged in hazardous work that puts their health, safety and moral development at risk. And for the first time in two decades, progress has stalled, with an absolute increase of 8 million children in child labor since 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, with the possibility of an additional 8.9 million children being forced into child labor due to increasing global poverty.

In this context, today the Kekeli Centerlocated in Togo, shares its experience in assisting child victims of violence, sexual abuse, labor exploitation and cross-border trafficking.

Child victims of cross-border trafficking are received at the airport by the General Directorate for Child Protection (DGPE) and other partners, or referred by the social action directors of prefectures throughout Togo. From the airport, the children are taken to the Kekeli Center’s transit house, where they are housed, fed and clothed to stabilize them before being reintegrated into their families. Child victims of labor exploitation are referred by third parties or partner organizations. The juvenile judge is informed of the situation of each foster child and issues a temporary custody order. This process is under the responsibility of the person in charge of the legal department of the Center’s Social Unit.

Support for child victims of cross-border trafficking and labor exploitation begins with the reception process. Upon arrival at the Center, children are first seen at the reception desk, where their identity is verified (surnames, first names, dates of birth, ethnicity, age and place of origin, among other data). Depending on the case, the children can be listened to after they have settled in their bedroom, which allows them to feel at ease before the listening phase to gather information, which is carried out by the social workers of the Social Unit. It is not uncommon for traffickers to have assigned other names to the children. Medical support is then provided to ensure the health of each child, including pregnancy tests and medical examinations. Psychological and educational support is also provided to ensure effective rehabilitation of the victims.

During counseling, children find a safe and protective space to talk about their traumatic experiences, suffering, worries, fears and desires. This is achieved through psychotherapy sessions, discussion groups and supportive psychotherapy, allowing them to regain control of their bodies, gain self-confidence, regain self-esteem and rediscover emotional well-being.

Educational support is provided by the educators and animators of the Educational Unit through recreational activities, sports, dance and gymnastics, as well as outings with the victims. Children receive educational support to improve their schooling during their stay in the transit center, before being reintegrated into their families and society.

The reintegration of children into their families is a collaborative process involving all actors in the child protection system, including parents. During its stay at the Kekeli Center transit center, the social unit works closely with prefecture directors (PDs) and social workers from the Ministry of Social Action throughout the country to find the parents of the victims. During the reintegration process, psychosocial care is provided to each parent in the presence of the aforementioned and local actors to ensure that children are properly reintegrated and do not become victims of exploitation again. Once reintegrated into their biological families, children are returned to school or, in the case of adults, to the workplace to keep them busy. Permanent contact is maintained with the child and his or her parents through post-reintegration follow-up, both at the learning centers or school and through the prefectural directors. These follow-ups ensure that the children are well integrated and that they continue their education without difficulties, solving any problems that may arise in their environment.

The Kekeli Center, through its staff and support procedures, provides victims with holistic care to ensure effective rehabilitation. In addition to providing care, prevention initiatives are implemented every year to raise awareness among children, young people and adults about this problem, informing them about the institutions to which they can turn if they are victims or witnesses. Attention is crucial in the fight against this harsh reality, but it is also necessary to implement awareness-raising initiatives to curb child exploitation through labor and trafficking, whose main objective is to exploit children in deplorable conditions, ignoring their rights.