SOS Children's Village Dassa-Zoumé Although improvements are happening in the areas of child protection, education and health care, many children still live in precarious situations with no access to health care or a stable education. Coping with changes and a growing population Happy to have a loving home (photo: G. Sattler) Dassa-Zoumé is a city located in central Benin on the main travel route between north and south. Surrounded by picturesque hills and forests, the city draws a number of tourists while also being a significant destination for Catholic pilgrims. These factors have helped the city to become a place of financial opportunity, which in turn has led to a rapidly growing population rate. These developments have put existing infrastructure of all kinds under great strain; sanitation, access to medical treatment and schooling are among the most pressing issues. The struggle to stop child labour exploitation and child trafficking The cultural tradition of “vidomegon”, whereby children from poor families are placed in richer families, remains widespread in Benin. Traditionally, the children could thus gain access to education which would otherwise have been inaccessible. However, in contemporary Benin, these children often live a slave-like existence full of domestic chores and many suffer abuse of all kinds. The children mainly come from rural areas, and the vast majority of them are girls, because sons are seen as a bigger asset for the parents, whereas daughters will become part of their husbands’ families. Sometimes, financial gain can be a motive behind "vidomegon" and some children are sold as domestic servants or labourers. The authorities have started to take measures to reduce child trafficking, which is also a common threat to the wellbeing of many children in the region. Children are trafficked to other places in Benin or to neighbouring countries, where they are forced to do hard labour in mines, quarries or farming. Many girls and young women are forced into prostitution through trafficking. "Vidomegon" and child trafficking are examples of why it is so important to raise awareness of children's rights in this region. In order to change the living conditions for these children as well as for coming generations, it is of utmost importance to reach parents and carers and educate them on the rights of children and empower them to adequately care for their children. What we do in Dassa-Zoumé After the tragic death of her husband, the SOS Family Strengthening Programme supported this woman until she became self-sufficient (photo: SOS archives) To reach as many children in need as possible, SOS Children’s Village Dassa-Zoumé has strengthened families and provided assistance for children and their families since 2005. Strengthening families: Our social centre coordinates a wide range of initiatives to help vulnerable families and children achieve better prospects for the future. Food packages are offered to vulnerable children as well as families affected by HIV/AIDS. Parents and carers are provided with work training that may improve their chances to secure a job and thus enable them to support their families. Care in SOS families: Children without anyone to care for them can find a home in one of twelve SOS families, where they can grow up under the care of an SOS mother together with their sisters and brothers. Support for young people: Older children move into special accommodation while they finish school or do vocational training. They are supported by SOS co-workers until they are able to live independently. Education: A kindergarten and a primary school run by our organization provide children from SOS families as well as children from the local community with daily care and education. Through extracurricular activities in areas such as sport, arts and culture, the children gain additional, valuable knowledge and social skills. Medical assistance: More than 2000 patients are treated yearly at the SOS Medical Centre in Dassa-Zoumé, which cooperates closely with existing local health authorities on vaccination programmes and HIV /AIDS campaigns. Advocacy: An important part of our work in Dassa-Zoumé is to raise awareness on children’s rights both in the local community and among local authorities and organisations, so more families can provide the kind of loving environment that all children deserve.