Fighting human trafficking: Ghana's youngest victims
By Florence Gbolu (Edited by Wendy Sawatzky)
GHANA: A year ago, the Government of Ghana passed a law that made it a crime to traffic in people -- that is, to sell adults and children into a modern form of slavery.
The Human Trafficking Act aims to prevent, reduce and punish human trafficking, and to rehabilitate and reintegrate people who are trafficked. To be able to achieve some of the goals set up in the Millennium Development Goal, there is the need to combat these practices, especially when they target children.
However, in this era of civilisation and development, Ghanaian children, through no fault of their own, are still being given out or sold to people, being deprived of their rights to enjoy life to the fullest.
These children often live in terrible conditions, working during unfavourable weather, eating non-nutritious foods, and wearing shabby clothes. Many grow up with no formal education or moral training, thereby leaving them illiterate and lacking discipline.
The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) is one organisation working to fight this scourge and put the new Human Trafficking Act into practice in the country, especially among children working in fishing communities.
Last week, the IOM held a workshop to help implementation partners in the community (including partner organisations and agencies and members of the media) to understand how the IOM helps trafficked children and how the partners could help in the organisation's work.
In December 2002, the IOM launched a programme on migration in three fishing communities, namely Yeji, Mfantesiman and North and South Tornu District, all falling on Volta-area lakeshores. The aim of this project was to fight the child trafficking situation in these various communities and rescue captured children.
Together with its implementing partners, such as the Department of Social Welfare, Ghana Health Service, Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, the IOM has been able to rescue over 500 children and reintegrate them into society.
Kwasi Opoku Mensah, a programme officer at Friends for Human Development, one of the IOM's implementation partners, explained to Social Justice how the child-rescue program began.
While working in his former job in the fisheries, Mr. Mensah said, a ban was made on the use of certain gears for fishing. To make sure that this law took effect, officers were brought in to secure the place.
Whilst there, the officers noticed large number of children on the sea. After investigating, they realised that these little ones were trafficked. This they reported, and research began as to how the children found their way into such places.
Since then, Mr. Mensah and his organisation have helped rescue trafficked children. In partnership with the IOM, they have rescued about 537 over the past few years.
The IOM's officers visit fishing communities and have meetings with chiefs to educate the communities on the Human Trafficking Act, and the dangers of using children in fishing. A lot of people do not know the crime they commit when they use these children to fish, the IOM said.
The implementation officers inform the people in the community about the project and the need to release the children, after which, they are left to decide what to do.
Later, the officers return to the community for response and begin to register these children whom the fishermen are ready to release.
"Rescuing these children is not aimed at destroying the fishing business. These fishermen are supported with micro-finance compensation, which is often fishing nets, to enable them continue their work without the help of these children," said Mr. Mensah.
After the children are rescued, they are camped at Yeji for month before they are brought down to Accra to be rehabilitated. They are then reunited with their parents if it is possible and in the child's best interest.
People give out their children to these fishermen in return for monthly, quarterly or annual compensation.
To enable them to solve or curb this menace, the IOM provides micro-finance assistance to parents of these rescued children to enable them start a business of their own and provide for their families.
The implementing partners do follow-ups later on to ensure the people are using their benefits profitably.
Mr. Mensah has a target to help rescue a majority of trafficked children from the area in the coming years.
"Now that the law has been passed, I hope to involve both the law and IOM policy to rescue these children," he said.