This October, 17 members of the French charity organisation, 'Zoe's Ark' were charged with child abduction by the Chad government. They were accused of smuggling children from the country, citing that they were orphans of the Darfur conflict. According to the UN, virtually all of the children had been living with family members in villages.The aid group was working in the Abéché region of Chad - the base of operations for dozens of aid groups - to raise awareness of the crisis in Darfur and provide aid for children affected by it.
When a reader comes across a story such as this, they're divided between supporting the Chad government that claims the foreign aid group is interfering in matters that they don't need to and those who are disillusioned with the corrupt system existent in a country, that prevents them from providing the most vulnerable victims of turmoil with fast relief.
In a war-ravaged country, children are one of the first to suffer. Adults always have more survival options available to them. Children, dependent on others for even their basic requirements, often find themselves helpless in the face of adversity.
According to a survey by Berlin-based organization Transparency International in 2006, Chad ranks 156 among 163 countries, making it one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Therefore, processing of documentation that will allow the children to be legally taken out of the country and placed in a healthier environment would take time and there is always the possibility that it may never become a reality. Meanwhile, it's the children who bear the consequences of an unjust system that denies them essentials like nutritious food, clean water and hygienic sanitation facilities, not to mention more serious basics such a sprotection from violence, heinous crimes and most importantly, the right to life .
On the other hand, several cases have been reported in the past of perpetrators smuggling children into foreign countries, stating reasons of rehabilitation and adoption, and find themselves trapped in vile circumstances of debilitating exploitation such as human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse. From one bad situation to one that is worse.
The aid organization had claimed that the children were sick, hungry and abandoned, and had raised money from European families to rescue the children and place them temporarily in French homes. But checkups showed the children to be in good condition and well-fed in the context of Chad.
The majority of the children came from Chadian villages along the border with Sudan, but aid officials were not able to say if the children were Chadians or Sudanese. The long and porous border, and the violence in neighbouring Darfur, has pushed Sudanese and Chadian residents into each other's territory. This makes tracing the childrens' families difficult.
Until formalities are sorted out and paperwork processed, again it's the children who wait for someone to lead them back to a tumultous, and sometimes lost, childhood.