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IOM Reuniting Ghanaian Slave Children with Families - 2003-09-06

The International Organization for Migration is in the process of reuniting a first group of 173 Ghanaian slave children with their families. The Geneva-based IOM says these children are part of a larger group of 1,000 who have been sold to fishermen in the Volta region of central Ghana.

The children are staying at a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration in the Ghanaian town of Yeji. They are undergoing medical examinations before being reunited with their families.

IOM Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the children are mostly boys between 3 and 14 years of age. They were sold to local fishermen by their impoverished parents for an average of $180. He said the children were forced to work in the fishing industry under slave-like and very dangerous conditions.

"They are casting nets, pulling nets. I am told that sometimes the nets get hooked at the bottom of the lake on branches and they have to dive in the lake to pull these nets away from the branches. Some of them have died drowning doing so," said Mr. Chauzy. "Their diet is extremely poor. They only eat cassava and cassava soup. They have got stunted growth."

Mr. Chauzy said the children do not get paid. They are often beaten by their slave masters. He said many are severely traumatized by their experiences.

He said local tribal chiefs helped IOM persuade the fishermen to release more than 1,000 children. In return for letting them go, Mr. Chauzy said the fishermen will receive training, modern fishing equipment and small loans to help them improve their fishing techniques. They will also get help in taking up other work.

"A lot of fishermen in and around Lake Volta tell you that the fish stocks in the lake have been dwindling anyhow; that fishing is now hardly worth the effort," said Mr. Chauzy, "and that is one of the reasons why they were employing child labor, because they could not afford to employ adults."

To make this scheme work, Mr. Chauzy said IOM also has been helping the parents who sold their children because they were too poor to keep them. He said the parents are receiving business training and loans to start or expand small businesses. He said the children will go to school or join vocational training programs.