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Opinions of Thursday, 31 March 2016

Columnist: James Kofi Annan

Eliminating child slavery on Lake Volta

There are millions of children trapped in slavery worldwide. An analytical study on child labour on the Volta Lake by the International Labour Organisation/International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour (ILO/IPEC) indicated that over 215 million child labourers are engaged in several economic activities in the world today and that about 60 percent of them work in the agricultural sector, including fishing and aquaculture.

In Ghana, approximately 21.8 percent (1.9 million) of children aged between five and 17 are engaged in child labour with 14.2 percent (1.2 million) of the children engaged in hazardous child labour as defined by the Law.

On Ghana’s Lake Volta, one will see numerous children slaving in canoes or in deep waters at the beck and call of their ‘masters’; an act which is in absolute violation of the law.

Given out by their parents mainly as a result of poverty, these children are compelled by their masters to endure the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL), including diving into the water to track fish movements or unwinding fishing nets from tree stumps in the water, paddling or tossing out water, from the canoes, pulling fishing nets, picking and sorting fish and mending nets among other jobs.

These kinds of ruthless endangerment expose the child to high-level risks as they are not provided with any form of safety gears in such hazardous conditions. According to the ILO/IPEC report, various injuries and health problems such as bites/stings from fishes, cuts, fish poisoning, bruises, abrasions, back injuries/muscle injuries, broken bones, blistered hands and feet, head injuries, burns, visual impairment and bone deformities are but some of the major dangers these children are exposed to.

Rights of trafficked child

The rights of the child as stipulated in the Children’s Act of 1998 states that the best interest of the child shall be paramount in any matter concerning the child. It also states that every child has the right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education and shelter from his/her parents.

However, infringement of the rights of child slaves is very persistent among child traffickers on the Lake Volta.

Child slaves are suffering in silence! They have come to understand that to stay in silence is to survive. Even when their bruises and injuries are screaming out loud in pain, these distraught and traumatised children neglect and ignore their own body’s cry for help just so they live to see another day in peace.

Section 47 of the Children’s Act states that a parent or any other person who is legally liable to maintain a child or contribute towards the maintenance of the child is under a duty to supply the necessities of health, life, education and reasonable shelter for the child.

Yet, child slaves are made to toil from dawn till evening; sometimes with no food and no clothes to wear.

Several children are trapped in this menace and the future looks very bleak, especially now that the 2015 Report on Human Trafficking by the US State Department indicates that Ghana is losing the battle in its quest to end child slavery.

Increase in trafficking

Ghana is now on the Tier 2 Watch List, representing a significant increase in trafficking and failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year.

It is for this reason that some institutions have taken it upon themselves to conduct intensive sensitisation and awareness programmes to educate parents, guardians, community leaders and traditional authorities on the importance of investing in the child’s future.

Such programmes are currently yielding results. Parents and concerned citizens with vital information are taking the initiative to support law enforcement and NGOs by giving up perpetrators of child labour and trafficking and resisting all forms of slavery.

For instance, Challenging Heights, a non-governmental organisation in Winneba, has through its targeted and intensive awareness programmes rescued over 1,500 children from child trafficking and provided rehabilitation for them at their various shelters.

Located in one of the highest child trafficking communities in Ghana, Challenging Heights rescues and provides comprehensive rehabilitation for trafficked children and builds economic resistance to slavery by economically empowering poor and vulnerable families.

Through its initiatives, such as the Women Economic Empowerment Programme (WEEP), Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) and Micro-Financing Programmes, beneficiary families are now running businesses and earning independent incomes that will significantly elevate them from their current level of poverty and ultimately enable them to provide better, the necessities of life for their children.

Way forward

Recommendations from both the ILO/IPEC and US State Department Reports admonish law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences and convict and punish trafficking offenders.

Law enforcers such as the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit should be well-equipped to conduct law enforcement efforts; train law enforcement, child labour inspectors and social welfare personnel to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations.

Furthermore, an Attorney-General’s prosecutor should be trained and placed in each of the ten regions with judicial personnel in the various districts to specially lead the prosecution of human trafficking cases.

There is also the need to develop economic and livelihood packages for families and households as additional or alternative income-generating ventures for fishers to enable them to support their families.

By introducing and adopting improved technologies to replace the traditional and inefficient ways of doing fishing, more families will make responsible commitments to desist from the use of children in the various stages of fishing and eventually, Ghana will become a trafficking-free country.