During a recent research trip to Sierra Leone to attend a conference on Sierra Leonean history, participants, including myself, could not but help notice that the local new stations were captivated by new claims that the Help A Needy Child International Center, known as HANCI, had fraudulently removed children from their parents during the country’s recent civil war. Parents of over twenty children have now come forward to claim that their children were removed from their control under false pretenses in the context of conflict. They want their children back and they want to know where they are.
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The recent child adoption scandal in Sierra Leone echoes an earlier incident of child abduction by the French NGO, Arche de Zoé, in Chad. On 30 October 2007, the government of Chad formally charged six members of the charity for child abduction. Despite the group’s claim that the children were orphans from Darfur to be fostered in France, most of the 103 children have been found to be Chadian, and to have at least one living parent or guardian. Three journalists, seven Spanish Girjet flight crew, four Chadian and Sudanese nationals, including two Chadian officials, were also charged for complicity. Allegedly, some parents were convinced to surrender their children with promises of schooling, while some children were offered sweets and biscuits to leave home. To demonstrate the authenticity of the war orphan claim, aid workers applied fake blood and bandages to the children.
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These two cases, and others like it from Benin and Nigeria, have thrust the issues of child adoption, smuggling, and trafficking once again into the foreground. The context of war and conflict ties together the stories from Sierra Leone and Chad. In both cases, Western organizations stand accused of removing children from their natal family situations under false pretenses. Child placement is one form of bonding and enslavement with a rich and complicated history and present in Africa.
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