As Disney’s reboot of the classic Cinderella opens in cinemas around Australia, thousands of girls as young as seven are living the fairy tale as a real-life nightmare – trafficked from villages in the West African nations of Nigeria, Togo and Benin and forced into child labour, says child rights organisation Plan International Australia. Taken from rural villages to Togo’s capital of Lome, often by close female relatives like their aunts or sisters, the girls are put to work in households where, Cinderella-like, they must perform laborious domestic work. Their wages are collected and delivered to the people who trafficked them.
The trafficked girls miss out on school, and many experience physical violence, are not fed, or are raped and abused by men in the household. Two of those girls, Esther and Bella, are subjects of a powerful new short film from Plan, Real Cinderellas. Watch it on YouTube here: youtu.be/Gp2dyUgWKo4
Last year Esther, now 14, was trafficked from her sleepy village to Togo’s capital Lomé, after being persuaded by an aunt that she was being taken on holiday. There, her female boss hit and starved her, refusing to let her go home.
“I washed the clothes, the plates and looked after the baby,” said Esther. “I used to cry, and I dreamt of returning to the village.”
Esther was eventually rescued after staff from Plan Togo’s anti-trafficking project alerted her parents. The project works to reintegrate trafficked children back into school - and provides vocational training for those who are too old to return to the classroom.
Bella, now 16, was trafficked to Lomé by her older sister when she was ten years old. When she arrived in the capital, she was given to a woman who made her work as a domestic servant.
“I was the one washing the dishes, cleaning the floors, cooking and taking care of the children,” recalls Bella, now 16. “The boss used to beat me; she would make me kneel down and whip me on my back.”
Eventually, Bella escaped via a friend of her sister who, sympathising, agreed to take her back to the village.
“When I came back, I said to myself that I wouldn’t suffer again,” says the teenager, who is now training as a hairdresser in a salon near her home. “But when I think of what happened in Lomé, I become very sad.”
Community members say poverty is the major factor driving trafficking, as well as deeply engrained social beliefs. Plan believes increasing economic power of families and changing attitudes will help combat the problem.
“Poverty is like a hunger, and as long as this hunger is felt, and we find ourselves in a situation where the economic power of families does not allow them to meet this hunger, the idea of children going on these journeys will always happen,” says Tcha Berei, an Education Specialist at Plan Togo.
“Plan is raising awareness about the rights of the child and we would like to reach the situation where a parent, whatever their level, could recognise the rights of their child,” Berei says.
Watch Real Cinderellas on YouTube here: youtu.be/Gp2dyUgWKo4
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945