Human trafficking is an international problem affecting millions of people and many countries around the world. In Ghana, West Africa, the internal trafficking of children is one of the biggest challenges.
Many Ghanaian children are trafficked from their home villages to work in the fishing industry, farming in the tropics and selling on the streets. Living in meagre conditions and working long hours every day, these kids are exploited by people desperate to make money at all cost both in rural and urban communities.
Created by the construction of the Akosombo dam in the early 1960s, Lake Volta is one of the world’s largest artificial lakes. A number of fishermen who have depended on the bounties of the lake for many years report that fish stocks are decreasing, making it difficult to survive off fishing alone. Other work is scarce in a country where unemployment is widespread and approximately 40 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.
The depletion of stocks is one of the key reasons why children are needed as workers in the fishing industry. In addition to being cheap labor, their small, nimble fingers are useful in releasing the fish from the ever smaller nets.
In the rainforest of Ghana where most food stuffs and cash crops such cocoa are grown, children are used the most because they produce the cheapest form of labor. In cocoa growing areas like Western north mostly kids work in cocoa plantations from dawn to dusk. The story is the same for the savanna areas of Ghana where crops like maize, millet and yam are cultivated in larger quantities.
It is a common sight in cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and other regional capitals in Ghana, to find kids selling under harsh weather conditions (usually scorchy sun) in traffic. These kids should have been in school but their case is always a different one with either a family member or their parents orchestrating their travel to the city usually promising them an illusion of a better life.
“The Government should ban the use of nets with tiny holes,” says Jack Dawson, Executive Director of APPLE, a local NGO that works in several fishing villages. “Doing so would allow fish stocks to improve and discourage the use of kids because there would be no need for such small hands. “Yes but what about the kids on the farms and the tired feet on the streets?
Spotting victims of trafficking is relatively easy as their demeanor differed from that of children still living with their parents. Whereas kids tend to be playful and seek the attention of visitors, trafficked children are generally more reserved.
“There was this young boy who came off the lake,” she says, “he simply froze when he saw us! Carrying his paddles, his jeans falling off him; he wanted the attention of the camera, and gave a little smile, but it was so diffident, so broken.”
The driving forces behind child trafficking extend beyond fish scarcity, economic hardship and cheap labor. Deep-rooted traditions can also help explain the prevalence of this crime. For example, it is common in Ghana for children to participate in apprentice work with a relative or family friend. Many kids, and their parents, believe that going away to work is a route to a better life.
“Child trafficking is actually a distortion of the old cultural practice of placement with relatives or townspeople,” says Joe Rispoli, Head of the Counter-Trafficking Department of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ghana. “And many parents don’t know the value of education; for them, it’s more immediately valuable for their children to learn how to fish, farm or a trade.”
Child labor and even trafficking is deeply ingrained in the fishing industry in Ghana. Through conversations with child traffickers, it becomes clear that many of them simply do not realize that it is wrong for children to be away from their parents, not attending school and performing hard physical work for long hours.
For example, Benjamin, a fisherman for 15 years, used to visit parents and ask them if their children could help him with his work. As he said, “children are good fishers.” He would teach them how to use the boat, swim and dive, and he believed he was doing the right thing.
However, a few years ago, an IOM intervention made Benjamin and other traffickers realize that children should not be made to work like adults. “We have understood that it is wrong, and that kids should be with their parents and in school,” Benjamin says. Now, he is working as a community coordinator for APPLE, taking great pride in his work to stop child trafficking in Ghana.
Emmanuel, also works with APPLE, educating both traffickers and parents about the perils of child trafficking. He says that reducing its incidence is a process that requires patience.
“We need to build trust, to win the parents’ hearts and souls,” he says. “If they open up to us, we can make them understand. Therefore, we don’t use legal arguments, as that frightens them.”
The legal framework on trafficking in Ghana was strengthened in December 2005, when the Government passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill, with assistance from a variety of international organizations. And while Ghana has not ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, there is optimism that it will be ratified in the near future.
“We are definitely going to ratify the UN Convention,” says Marilyn Amponsah, Director of the International Children’s Desk for the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs. “We have participated in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) regional cooperation for many years, and we are now ready for the UN.”
However, Amponsah stresses that the Ghanaian Government will need external assistance to be able to effectively implement the Convention. The international community could, for example, help build local capacity on human trafficking-related topics, finance micro-credit schemes to prevent and combat human trafficking, and provide the equipment necessary to perform day-to-day administrative tasks.
written by :
Omane Sarfor Kwame