An overnight operation to prevent children from being trafficked into forced labour was undertaken by the Ghanaian NGO Challenging Heights and the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of Ghana Police. Working together the organisations saved 33 unaccompanied children from being taken to Lake Volta, where it is suspected they would have been made to undertake hazardous labour in the dangerous fishing industry there.
On Saturday night and Sunday morning a number of Challenging Heights staff infiltrated suspect vehicles travelling from known source communities including Ningo, Prampram, Ada, Aflao, Winneba and Senya. They were able to report a description and the moving location of these buses to the Anti Human Trafficking Unit, who were able to successfully intercept the vehicles with this information.
A bus travelling from Ningo to Yeji was stopped by police at Bonsu Junction at 9.15pm on Saturday night, and 9 children were removed. Another 7 children were removed from a second bus travelling to Yeji from Aflao that was stopped at 11.20pm. In total 12 girls and 4 boys aged between 6 and 17 were found to be travelling alone without good reason, and taken into care as suspected victims of human trafficking. On Sunday morning an additional three vehicles were stopped, from the Greater Accra and Central Regions. This resulted in an additional 17 children being taken into care, some as young as 4 or 5.
Challenging Heights staff assisted the police in screening children – in particular, making sure traffickers didn’t coerce them into giving false accounts. Following the operation children were taken to Kofordia Police Headquarters, where more detailed screening was undertaken.
Children are particularly at risk of being trafficked at the start of the school vacations. Families may be persuaded to send children away to work while school is closed, only for them never to return. Missing children are less likely to be spotted quickly during this time. Many do not realise the horrendous conditions that their children will be subjected to, working long hours doing dangerous work for no pay and little food. Many die on Lake Volta, and all suffer physically and mentally.
Challenging Heights has been working to sensitize vulnerable communities, and has been reaching out to faith leaders to help. Unfortunately, despite Cardinal Turkson and the Archbishop of Canterbury both personally expressing a wish to see churches in Ghana do more, little action has been taken by most faith leaders thus far. We believe those with a voice must raise it to increase awareness of the human trafficking problem in Ghana, and acknowledge that some of our nation’s children continue to be subjected to conditions of slavery. The results of this operation prove that the problem is real and requires active intervention.
Sadly these saved children are a tiny fraction of those suffering right now. A Government of Ghana ILO/IPEC study estimates that there are 21,000 children in hazardous labour on Lake Volta alone. To stop the flow of trafficked children a strong message must be sent to traffickers and would-be traffickers.
We hope the operation will result in the prosecution of those found to have been buying and selling children, so the news spreads deep into the affected communities and the results go further than the children gathered from harm in one night.
This includes charging drivers found to be involved, as during the operation evidence emerged that vehicles were being warned of the checkpoint by accomplices. We are pleased that police have already cautioned three individuals, but hope that full charges can soon be brought.
We call on all the people of Ghana to acknowledge what is happening, to share this knowledge and help communities everywhere protect their children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour.
Challenging Heights is a Ghanaian NGO that promotes youth and family empowerment and children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour in Ghana. Challenging Heights delivers social justice interventions to underserved communities with programmes that include the rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of children who have been trafficked to Lake Volta to work in the fishing industry.
Challenging Heights also runs a number of community awareness and economic empowerment programmes in order to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking of children.
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