Security officials from Ghana and Nigeria met in Accra, this week to discuss greater collaboration to curb child trafficking, which is on the rise in both West African countries.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), which coordinated the meeting, said it had become necessary to work with security agencies from both countries to bust child trafficking syndicates.
"We need to put in place wide networks of informants to work with security services. Laws and sanctions on child trafficking need to be revised constantly in order to tackle this problem," Cornelius Dzakpasu, the head of ILO in Ghana, told delegates on Tuesday.
He said that since child trafficking was a cross-border problem, ILO would focus on creating networks among the security and law enforcement agencies. This would lead to agreements on the procedures for repatriating freed children.
Officials said child trafficking had increased within the sub-region, but there were not reliable figures on the number of victims involved. They said many of the trafficked children ended up working in Ghana's fishing industry, cocoa plantations in Cote d'Ivoire and stone quarries in Nigeria.
"We have seen numbers of about 400,000 children involved in labour in the West African Region. These figures are hardly accurate since they are gathered on baseline estimates," Mark Taylor, a US State Department Specialist in Trafficking of Persons, told IRIN on the sidelines of the meeting.
"Trafficking is illicit. The activity is underground and it is very difficult to find and track people who have been trafficked," he added.
Taylor said it had become more difficult to tackle child trafficking within the less organised sector of domestic labour. It was equally difficult to track the movement of girls within West Africa and to Europe, who were being exploited as prostitutes.
In Ghana, where hundreds of trafficked children were freed in September from employment by fishermen along the banks of the Volta River, a draft Trafficking In Persons Prevention Bill is currently at initial stages.
Ghana's Interior Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyemang attributed child trafficking to poverty and the emergence of refugee camps as a result of conflicts in the sub-region. He called for more drastic efforts to stop the activity.
"We need an effective witness protection scheme and safe houses. This will make it safe for child victims and witnesses to speak out against the syndicates, allowing for offenders to be prosecuted and punished," Owusu-Agyemang said.
The Special Assistant to Nigeria's President on Human Trafficking and Child Labour, Elizabeth Dayo Akinmoyo told IRIN: "Nigeria's size and its cultural and religious structures make it very difficult to track down this problem, though we are creating a lot of awareness on how to tackle this menace."
"In recent weeks, our police, acting on tip-offs raided a camp at Ogun State in western Nigeria where 115 children were freed and repatriated to their home country in Benin. We are doing our best," she noted.
The US government has acknowledged the efforts of some West African countries to curb the menace of trafficking, but said progress was slower than expected.
The 2003 US Department of Labour's annual child labour report and the US Department of State's Trafficking In Persons report recently gave high marks to Ghana and Benin for their efforts combat the trafficking of persons.
"This ranking means that these two countries meet the minimum standards for government action towards the elimination of trafficking," US Ambassador to Ghana, Mary Carlin Yates said.