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General News of Wednesday, 8 January 2003

Source: Reuters

Child Slaves in Ghana Set to Return Home

GENEVA - Some 1,200 children sold into dangerous slave labor on fishing boats in Ghana could soon be freed to return to their families, an international agency said Tuesday.

Since the project to free them was launched two weeks ago with $350,000 in funding from the United States, so-called "slave masters" have already pledged to release 58 boys, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The children, aged 5 to 14, are forced to work long hours in the fishing industry on Lake Volta in central Ghana after their destitute families sell them to traffickers for $180 per child, the IOM said in a statement.

"They start at dawn and work through late afternoon casting and drawing nets. They are fed, but never paid," said IOM's Ernest Taylor. "Sometimes the nets get stuck at the bottom of the lake and children have to dive to release them. Many have drowned."

Under the scheme, the families of the former slaves will receive a small amount of money to enable the children to return to school or start vocational training.

The fishermen will get training and equipment aimed at improving their ability to catch fish without being tempted to resort to child labor.

The program has the backing of Ghanaian authorities and traditional chiefs, the Geneva-based agency added.

"This is a pilot project ... which we hope to extend to the sub-region where child slavery is a problem," said IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that about 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in some form of child labor, some 80 million of them in Africa.