11 Nov 2007
The Need To Shade More Light
When news broke out two weeks ago that members of a French NGO (Zoe’s Ark) and some Spanish flight personnel were arrested in Eastern Chad on October 25th for trying to airlift 103 African children to France, there was general confusion because many people wanted to understand the details.
Before the picture became clearer, some people tended to sympathize with Zoe’s Ark, believing they were pragmatic and compassionate people that were bypassing bureaucracy to rescue orphans from the clutches of death and place them in foster care of sympathetic Europeans. Television footage tended to confirm this thinking by showing anxious recipients waiting for the ‘rescued orphans’ at an airport in France.
As time rolled by, we got to know that the would-be French foster parents paid at least the sum of $3400 to Zoe’s Ark to ‘cover cost’.
Eyebrows were raised when it was discovered that most of the children were from Chad and not from Darfur as claimed by Zoe’s Ark. And majority of them did not appear to be orphans.
When Chad’s president Idriss Deby visited the children in Abeche, he virtually threw a bombshell when he angrily accused the detained Europeans of stealing the children for possible sale to pedophiles and human organ snatchers. Vowing that, “We will do everything to expose this odious crime", Idriss Deby added that, "They treat us like animals."
This hard talk from the Chadian president prompted people to ask more questions about the real intentions of Zoe’s Ark. It was apparently becoming clear that these Zoe’s Ark people could possibly not have been driven only by blind compassion to violate child custody procedures (the French government had warned them of the apparent illegality of their planned action).
It has now been established that Chadian accomplice(s) of Zoe’s Ark went about recruiting some of the children from remote villages along the Chad/Sudan border with promises of taking them to neighbouring towns for schooling. In some cases, the children were simply lured with sweets and biscuits and ‘stolen’ from the villages.
Vulnerable African children drumming their problems to the world (photo: Njei Moses Timah)
Another intriguing twist is that some of the children rescued from Zoe’s Ark reportedly had fake infusion drips/dressings attached to their limbs to give the false impression that they were critically sick.
UN agencies, the Chadian government, the BBC and other Press organs have been able to establish clear links between some of the children and people considered to be their parents. It is just a matter of time (after the long procedure of establishing ties to relatives) for most of the children to be united with their families. The most painful part of this saga is that a couple of the children may never be re-united with their families as there seems to be no clue to their origins. On the other hand, some families may never find their children that were taken in a similar manner and are not among the lot at Abeche. Evidence of wrongdoing is clearly emerging to preclude any excuse of amateurism or naivety on the part of Zoe’s Ark.
Vulnerable Africans have often been betrayed by people who apparently came to help them but ended up exploiting their misery. That is why the anger at the actions of Zoe’s Ark is resounding louder and louder around Africa. A woman from one of the villages where some of these kids were kidnapped summed up the mood of people across the continent to BBC in this manner; "First they said it was for education," she said. "Now when we discover what is going on, I hate them so much. Killing is too good for those people”.
It is my opinion that Chad should request for the extradition from France (for trial) of any member of Zoe’s Ark involved in taking the decision to send that aircraft to Chad. Their Chadian accomplice(s) bear a bigger responsibility as they did most of the dirty job of snatching the children for Zoe’s Ark. The onus rests on them to help locate the families of the few remaining unidentified children.
The reported request to try these people in France is certainly in bad taste and it will be a scandal for Chad to submit to such a demand. The role that is expected of the French government is for her to carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain the real motive behind the alleged child trafficking and to determine whether other children have already entered France in a similar way.
Some of us were brought up under conditions of extreme poverty but at no time during that trying period did I ever contemplate the option of swapping my poor parents for some rich people. The child-parent relationship is very sacred. The anarchy that is reigning on the African continent creates conditions for these sacred bonds to be broken. Child trafficking has become a growing problem. African children are at the mercy of predators and are yearning for help.
Njei Moses Timah