Human trafficking :

My Experience In Human Rights In Ghana

August 10, 2013  |  By Camilla Pontalti, Italy

Human trafficking :

According to the U.S. Department of State, "Ghana is a country of origin, transit and destination for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking". Most of trafficking crimes occur within the country and "internal trafficking is characterized largely by the movement of children from rural to urban areas or from one rural area to another". Child trafficking represents the main issue in Ghana; even if there are no official data about the numbers, ages and details of the victims, stakeholders believe that tens of thousands of people are trafficked in Ghana every year.

There are two main reasons for human-trafficking: poverty and cultural practices. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimates that in Ghana 28,5 % of population live below poverty line and this makes people more vulnerable to traffickers. Poverty is also the reason for a linked phenomenon: the re-trafficking. Often parents, even if aware of the conditions in which their children have been living during their slavery, sell them again once they're rescued because the family needs the (little) money they receive from traffickers. As well as poverty, culture plays a central role especially as far as child exploitation is involved. As lawyer Hans Adde - from the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) in Ghana- said, there is a cultural conception of who a child is and for what he/she has been brought into the world: in most traditions, childbirth is obligatory but child maintenance in optional. According to many people, children must be used in any way or by any means to benefit their parents.

Whilst women are mostly trafficked for sexual exploitation, children are usually victims of trafficking for labour purposes, such as mining, farming or street hawking. The major part of trafficked children however is sent to the Volta Region: in 2006, aid organizations estimated the number of children working in the Lake Volta fishing industry to be in the thousands. Children between the ages of three and seventeen are forced to work long hours under tough conditions, disentangling the fish nets from the numerous tree stumps that are scattered throughout the lake or smoking the fish.

The victims of human-trafficking often become traffickers themselves because this is the only way they know to survive. Luckily, more and more people are saved every year by the Anti-human trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police and various NGOs. The lack of resources doesn't allow for specific governmental rehabilitation programs and rescued children often get marginalized because they are hot fully reintegrated once they return to their communities. Projects Abroad provides a rehabilitation program for rescued children both in shelters and in their communities; it implies educational and moral support. When trafficked children are brought back to their families, they have the possibility to go back to school but, since they didn’t receive education during their forced labour, they have to start from the basic levels and attend classes with much younger children. In this way, their marginalization gets worse in the very moment they should feel safe and free; this is the reason why Projects Abroad provided some local volunteers with a "Lesson package" (that can help the rescued children to catch up as soon as possible their peers) and a seminar about guidance and counseling (to face the most common social problems they could meet working with trafficked victims).

At PAHRO I also had the chance to research the legislation and interview many stakeholders (including representatives at Anti-human trafficking Unit, UNICEF, Ministry for Women and Children, Attorney General's Department, Social Services Department, Legal Resources), in order to understand why human-trafficking still constitutes one of the main criminal issues in Ghana. Together with other volunteers, I developed a publication which we discussed at a seminar with the different stakeholders. The main problem in the application of the Human Trafficking Act (2005) seems to be the lack of resources, that prevents governmental bodies from fully prosecuting traffickers and sufficiently rehabilitating victims. All of our interviewees agreed that in many trafficking cases, when the victims are children, the Children's Act is used more than the Human Trafficking Act because it brings to faster and easier trials; some stakeholders suggested to amend the Acts, but the majority of them believe that more specialization among police officers and judges would be preferable. Projects Abroad analyzed a very recent case: Operation BIA II, undertaken by the Anti-human trafficking Unit and the INTERPOL in May 2011. During this operation in the Volta Lake area, 116 children (aged 5-17) were rescued and 28 individuals were arrested; the perpetrators were charged under the Children's Act, causing them to be sentenced to 16 months in prison; if they had been charged under the Human Trafficking Act, they would have been sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of 5 years. The full application of the Act remains the most urgent issue in Ghana and stakeholders are taking efforts to solve this problem.

The Ghanaian government has led the way in trying to eradicate slavery from the country’s cocoa industry, where many children toil on plantations to harvest the crop that feeds the world’s chocolate industry. In 2007 the government conducted a large-scale study of trafficking and child labour on cocoa farms in an attempt to establish a cocoa certification and verification process — put simply, a way to confirm to the world’s chocolate producers that the cocoa they purchase is not produced by worst forms of child labour. Even though slavery in Ghana’s fishing industry is a more widespread and serious problem, labour practices in cocoa farming have received more of the government’s attention. With cocoa, international pressure has begun to affect supply and demand. As people learn more about the conditions of children working on plantations, they begin to demand chocolate that is free from child labour. In turn, chocolate producers are beginning to demand the cocoa they purchase meet that standard. Since cocoa is the country’s biggest cash crop and Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer in the world next to Côte d’Ivoire, there is a lot to gain by such an effort.

International pressure could be the key to convince the Government to invest money on the fight against human-trafficking and this could bring to concrete successes, since Ghana already has the legislative instruments and the human resources necessary to win this battle.

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Comments from our readers

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Comment :

Glad to hear this is going forward. "Thousands who are being abeusd, and who tonight, will not be rescued" I just don't know how anyone could read that line and not be sick to their stomach. Every day I can't get through the day without thinking of these women and the hell they're in right now.

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Comment :

The church can't be snilet on the evil of human trafficking absolutely agree. I wish Russ & I would have been able to attend the whole conference, but just Saturday afternoon was enough to refuel my desire for orphan care. And we just worked the Compassion booth! So thankful for what you do in the fight for orphans

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Lucy wells

Comment :

Although the human trafficking issue in Ghana remains a huge issue, it's heartening to hear that government and NGOs are working together to combat the problem - let's hope that raising awareness and education will help further this process! Sounds like the PAHRO is doing some great work.

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