In Ghana, children are being sold to provide cheap labor for farming and fishing. Most of them go to other communities within the country, but some end up in Nigeria and The Gambia.
Trafficking continues despite a law prohibiting it that was passed by parliament four years ago.
Ghana protects the well-being of children in two ways: through its constitution, which promises them the right of peaceful existence. The country is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Joyce Steiner is the manager of one of the advocacy groups fighting the practice, the Christian Council of Ghana.
Steiner said children from coastal areas who are not afraid of water are sent to small islands in Volta Lake, which once was a forest before the Volta River was dammed. There, they are made to retrieve fishing nets that have become twisted around numerous tree trunks along the bottom. Sometimes, children drown.
Children from the northern part of Ghana are used as labor in farming communities. Others work in the cities as hawkers, porters and household helpers.
Steiner said some parents give their children away because they need the money. Others are lured with promises of better care and job training, though in reality, they're usually forced to work under very harsh conditions.
“They don’t have good places to sleep. They don’t have access to health when they fall sick. They don’t have access to education,” says Steiner. “And the difficult part is that [the child] gets a master who has children of the same age but he uses that child for work. It is so heart [rending].”
Prevention through public awareness and financial support
The Christian Council of Ghana is trying to raise awareness about the danger of child labor. It’s been working with organizations like ActionAid, the International Organization for Migration and Britain’s Department for International Development.
“We are looking at a rights-based approach where the people [in local communities] are [encouraged to report on the activities of the human traffickers],” Steiner says. “We have [tried to educate] parents of trafficked children, traditional, religious and opinion leaders. They [play a watch-dog role and] serve as a kind of community police.”
Information obtained by the Christian Council of Ghana is used by other organizations to rescue trafficked children and to educate both parents and the traffickers on the dangers of child labor.
To prevent re-trafficking, the parents are given micro-credits to help them start a business, so they won’t feel pressured to sell their children again.
Rescue & Repatriation
A few years ago, 26 Ghanaian children were brought home from neighboring Liberia and a seven-month old baby from Togo. Children were also returned from Saudi Arabia.
The council organizes programs for these and other rescued children. Because of what they’ve been through, it can be difficult to deal with them. They’re offered psychological counseling for trauma.
“One is almost 18 years and is in class 3 [with children about half his age] but the enthusiasm with which he goes to school shows he wants to make something for himself. Another young lady wants to be a nurse,” Steiner says.
Some are encouraged to go to school, and others – with support – learn a trade. Most of them have been traumatized by their experiences and need help being re-integrated into society.