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In Togo, a 10-Year-Old's Muted Cry: 'I Couldn't Take Any More'

In Lome, a seaside city in a country with one of the highest rates of domestic slave trafficking in the world, hundreds of girls a year seek protection from abusive employers.

Djatao said she had raised Adiza since the child's parents separated, years ago. She said Adiza was a cheerful little girl who was happy to work around the house and in the fields.

One day in the local outdoor market, Djatao said, she saw Adiza getting into a car that everyone knew was heading to neighboring Nigeria. Alarmed, Djatao stopped her and brought her home.

Togolese girls leave places like this every day. They have little or no schooling and no skills other than sweeping and cleaning. So they leave to keep house for richer people in Lome or neighboring countries or places as far-off as France, Germany, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Often the girls are placed in jobs according to an African tradition known as "confiage," or entrusting. Rural families send their daughters to live with a relative, friend or someone else with a connection to their village, in arrangements often managed by a go-between who is known to the family. The agreement is that the girls will do domestic work and that in exchange they will be paid, sent to school and maybe even be able send some money home.

That system has broken down in Togo as the country's economy has faltered. Villagers have grown more desperate and the go-betweens less scrupulous, often placing girls with strangers and keeping their pay for themselves.

Visions of Opportunity

For nearly four decades, Togo suffered under the rule of Gnassingbé Eyadéma, a president who suffocated his country politically and economically until he died in 2005. His son, Faure Gnassingbé, is now president.

In the countryside, where 90 percent of the people are impoverished, many girls see hope in the capital, where only a quarter of the population lives in poverty, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Some leave the country altogether, seeing Nigeria -- where the per capita annual income is $2,100, compared with Togo's $900 -- as a land of opportunity.

Madjinteba Seritichi, a local government official, said many of the intermediaries are people who come to shop in the local markets. He said they often use the signs of their success -- cellphones and expensive jewelry and clothes -- to entice girls to come with them.

"Given our poverty, the parents are all too willing to hand over their children," said Seritichi, who said he has handled seven recent abuse cases in his small collection of villages.

He said two of the girls went to Lome, one went to Gabon, and the four others went to Nigeria. All were beaten, several were sexually abused, and none was paid.

Djatao said she had worried that Adiza might fall into the same trap. But the elderly aunt saw what she thought was a safe opportunity one day when a woman she knew from the local market said she was looking for a girl to work in Lome.


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