Supporting anti-child trafficking agenda to safeguard children’s rights

The issue of child trafficking persists in Ghana and requires urgent action to put an end to it.

This predicament involves the harbouring, receipt, transfer, or kidnapping of a child for the purpose of exploitation, adoption, forced labour, or slavery.

This inhumane situation has resulted in the loss of many lives, and the destruction of countless futures, and has put a financial strain on the government, civil society, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The United Nations (UN) has labelled it as a dreadful crime and a violation of people’s rights, safety, and dignity.

On the eve of last year’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that human trafficking was particularly affecting women and girls.

“Tragically, it is also a problem that is growing worse—especially for women and girls, who represent the majority of detected trafficked persons globally,” he stated.

Similarly, Dr Archibald Letsa, the Volta Regional Minister, expressed in a speech delivered at a conference organized by the International Justice Mission (IJM) last year that human trafficking posed a threat to Ghana’s human resources.

He highlighted that Volta Lake was identified as one of the prevalent areas for human trafficking. There were reports of fishermen persistently recruiting school-going children as young as six years old and engaging them in fishing on the lake.

Dr. Letsa mentioned that these recruitments were done with the silent support of parents, while others were deceived by traffickers who promised to take good care of the children.

The Minister explained that Parliament enacted the Human Trafficking Act 2005 (Act 694) to criminalize these acts, but law enforcement faced challenges due to the lack of resources and logistics needed for police activities, such as visiting islands and other inaccessible communities to investigate and apprehend suspects.

Furthermore, the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report by the United States (US) Department of State revealed that traffickers exploit Ghanaian children in forced labour within the country, including fishing, domestic service, street hawking, begging, portering, artisanal gold mining, quarrying, herding, and farming.

The report emphasized that traffickers forced children as young as four into labour on the Volta Lake, using violence and controlling their victims’ access to food.

Dr. Rita Owusu-Amankwah, a consultant for a research report by Solidaridad, an international NGO, highlighted the issue of child labour in the mining sector during the validation of the Child Labour Eradication Framework for Small-Scale Mining in Accra in February this year.

She estimated that approximately 5,677 children were engaged in mining activities, mostly in illegal operations since the law prohibits mining companies from employing children.

Dr. Owusu-Amankwah pointed out that this situation exposed children to hazardous work conditions, negatively impacting their health and education. It also tarnished Ghana’s international reputation in the gold market.

Although Ghana has implemented various laws and policies to protect children from abuse and exploitation, the practice persists in mining communities.

To address this menace, Dr. Owusu-Amankwah mentioned interventions such as the implementation of the National Plan of Action (NPA) 1 and 2, the Strategy on Anti-Child Labour and Trafficking in Fisheries, and the Caring Gold Mining Project for the Mining Sector.

According to data from the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the number of human trafficking cases increased from 587 in 2020 to 831 in 2021, indicating a 244 increase.

The number of cases under investigation also rose from 87 in 2020 to 108 in 2021, while prosecution cases increased from 13 in 2020 to 22 in 2021.

Efforts have been made by the government, NGOs, and foreign donors to provide extensive training to law enforcement officers, judicial officials, and frontline workers on trafficking definitions, legal concepts, investigative techniques, and victim protection.

In 2021, a total of 14 human traffickers, including two involved in sex trafficking and 12 in labour trafficking, were convicted under the anti-trafficking law. Out of these, 11 traffickers (79 percent) received a sentence of at least one year of imprisonment, according to the US Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The report also mentioned that three defendants were prosecuted and convicted for exploitative child labour under the Children’s Act of 1998. However, the fines imposed on two defendants and the option for a fine instead of imprisonment for one defendant were not seen as sufficient deterrents or reflective of the nature of the crime.

The government initiated investigations into 108 trafficking cases in 2021, including 60 labour trafficking cases and 42 sex trafficking cases, as stated in the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report.

In some instances, when there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction under the anti-trafficking law, alleged traffickers were prosecuted under the Children’s Act.

The report noted concerns regarding official corruption and complicity in trafficking crimes, which hindered law enforcement actions throughout the year.

Organizations like IJM Ghana collaborate with law enforcement and government agencies to rescue trafficked children on the Volta Lake, provide rehabilitation to the victims, and facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators.

Mr. Foster Worlanyo, the National Director of Advocacy and Partnership of IJM Ghana, reported that since 2015, they have partnered with relevant government agencies to rescue 366 victims and apprehend 228 perpetrators. Out of these numbers, 47 perpetrators have been successfully prosecuted, and 163 victims have undergone successful rehabilitation.

To effectively combat human trafficking, a collaborative approach is necessary, involving not only specific agencies or organizations but also security agencies, chiefs, pastors, and assembly members in mobilizing support for law enforcement efforts to eradicate human trafficking in communities.

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