02/29/2008, 00.00
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Yemen, children sold for a handful of dollars

Many, too many minors are sold by poor families in Yemen to rich Gulf countries. The trap of hunger and cultural factors are the causes of the phenomenon, which is showing an alarming increase.

Sanaa (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The drama of child trafficking is a plague for Yemen, where about 1.2 million children are sold every year to criminals in Saudi Arabia and in the rich Gulf countries.  For millions of young Yemenis, beyond the borders of their country the gates of hell are opened: they end up begging on the streets, working as domestic servants in the homes of the more prosperous, exploited as factory workers, or as camel jockeys.

The children come from the most remote and least fertile Yemeni provinces, where not even farming provides a good enough living for the families for whom every child becomes a mouth impossible to feed.  For patriarchal families, moreover, the sons must assume responsibilities from a very tender age, but the price to be paid to 'grow up' is truly too high.

Aboudou Adjibade, the UNICEF representative in Yemen, in a statement released to the news agency Reuters yesterday says: "It's just underground. It's difficult to control because there's a lot of complicity from the community level and the official level". Adjibade says the trade exposes children to the risks of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.

For years, UNICEF has been trying to shed light on the situation, appealing to the Yemeni authorities, who have steadfastly refused to consider the problem.  According to Islam - the state religion of Yemen - children must be protected, and it is inconceivable that the violation of the rights of children in the extremely religious country should be the order the day.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), it would seem that the government is growing more aware of the tragedy.  "Two years ago, we couldn't even talk about this problem officially", says IOM representative Stefano Tamagnini. "Now they start accepting the word 'trafficking'".

But the rate which the government is taking stock of the situation is not keeping up with the traffickers, who continue undisturbed month after month.  The trafficking reaches a peak during the month of Ramadan, when thanks to the flow of pilgrims toward Mecca the little beggars hope to scrape together a few extra coins.

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