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About Child Trafficking in Ghana

Find out more about IJM's approach to tackling child trafficking in Ghana

About Child Trafficking in Ghana

What does child trafficking in Ghana look like?

Traffickers force boys as young as five years old to work in hazardous conditions, including deep diving, and many suffer waterborne infections. Girls perform work on shore such as cooking, cleaning fish, and preparing fish for market, and are vulnerable to sexual abuse and forced marriage for the purpose of exploitation.

From the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report:

A study of the prevalence of child trafficking in selected communities in the Volta and Central Regions indicated that traffickers had subjected children from nearly one-third of the 1,621 households surveyed to forced labour, primarily in inland fishing and forced labor in domestic work. Organised traffickers who target vulnerable parents and communities facilitate child trafficking in the fishing industry in Ghana and other West African countries.

Why is IJM focusing on this crime in Ghana?

IJM Ghana was launched in late 2014, after we conducted an intensive operational assessment and qualitative study confirming the reality and brutality of child trafficking in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. Impunity was rampant. Fishermen using forced child labour did not try to hide the fact that children as young as three years old were made to work, diving into dangerous waters to untangle nets, hauling in heavy loads and working gruelling hours on little food. There was an assumption that the laws against trafficking would not be enforced.

How can you tell the difference between child labour and child trafficking?

IJM adheres to internationally-accepted definitions of child labour and human trafficking and pursues its casework in line with local law. Our investigators are trained to recognise the signs associated with each, and train local police and others to do the same.

The internationally-accepted definition of human trafficking (which includes forced labour and slavery) followed by the Ghanaian government, defines trafficking as, ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.’

Slavery and trafficking of children are considered the worst forms of child labour, but child labour may cover a range of conditions that vary in the level of exploitation (the International Labour Organization provides more information on characteristics of child labour).  More information on the Ghanaian legal framework for trafficking and characteristics of trafficking victims can be found in IJM’s 2014 baseline study.

What are local perceptions of trafficking into the fishing industry in Ghana?

Many Ghanaian government leaders, churches and civil society groups have been active in calling for solutions to the problem of child trafficking. The Second Lady of Ghana Samira Bawumia has been outspoken on the issue, calling for prosecution to deter traffickers. She has also distinguished between situations in which a parent or guardian is teaching a child a trade, and situations of trafficking: “the case where the freedom of the children are taken away from them, that is an element of slavery because you ought to be free to make that decision.”

These efforts to curtail trafficking have sometimes been met with resistance in Ghana, notably from regions of the country where fishermen profiting from trafficking form a powerful voting constituency. In response to this pressure, some have attempted to claim that trafficking is not taking place in Ghana.

Ghanaian courts, however, have recognised the evidence of trafficking in the cases brought before them. Since 2018, the courts have ruled on a number of cases supported by IJM, resulting in trafficking convictions for 21 people.

The Ghanaian media has also documented the issue of child trafficking. For recent examples, see this June 2020 article from Joy News and video report from the same month; May 2021 report also from Joy News; and this January 2021 report of perpetrator arrests.

Ghanaian police in the Volta region, who partner with IJM, have also outspokenly condemned child trafficking and supported efforts to end the practice. For instance, Chief Spt. Brown Mercy Wilson, the Regional Crime Officer for the Volta Regional Ghana Police Service, commented: “We from the Ghana Police Service support the idea of breaking the silence with the people who have been violated.”

What happens to children after they are removed from exploitation on the lake?

After a child is removed from danger, IJM’s social workers provide assistance to shelter partners and the Department of Social Welfare to identify the needs of each child and develop a plan of care. Often, children have untreated illnesses that require immediate medical attention, as well as psychological trauma from the abuse they have experienced. After those immediate needs for medical care, food and safe shelter are met, the process of tracing families and taking steps to reunite children with their families and communities begins.

Once children are reunited with their families, IJM takes the approach of supporting families to be able to care for their own children and send them to school, measuring success based on the reduced vulnerability of children to re-trafficking over time. For this reason, IJM continues to follow up with children for several years after they successfully complete their aftercare plan, in order to measure continued safety and wellbeing. We have developed an externally validated tool, the Assessment of Survivor Outcomes (ASO) tool, which helps to do this.

At the heart of this is whether survivors can live in their communities with a low likelihood of being victimised again. Aftercare staff use the ASO tool to generate a baseline assessment of survivors’ vulnerabilities and strengths, set goals with survivors for their care plans and then assess progress over time.

Removing children from exploitation is only the first step. We measure effectiveness of programmes several years down the road when we can see whether protection is sustained. In our most recent measurement, 83% of IJM-supported survivors in Ghana were able to be contacted to confirm their continued safety a year after safe reintegration.

What has IJM learned over the past four years working on this issue?

We are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of our approach in achieving the desired outcome of ending child trafficking in fishing in Ghana. One example of how our approach has evolved in the past four years is our approach to arrest and rescue operations.

Of the 100 children removed from exploitation in 2017, the first full year that IJM partnered with police to conduct rescue operations, 20% of the children were confirmed trafficking cases while the rest were victims of child labour (still a crime in Ghana, but not of the same severity). IJM staff were determined to improve this ratio and strengthen the quality of evidence being brought against traffickers.

Before joining any police operations in 2018, the IJM Ghana team worked with police to revise the strategic approach for rescue operations on Lake Volta. This new approach built stronger cases against traffickers, targeting traffickers higher up the chain and bringing to safety the children most vulnerable to extreme abuse. We began implementing this new model in late April, 2018. In 2018, we supported police to remove 48 children from exploitation, all of whom were victims of trafficking. We supported police to bring 60 trafficked children to safety in 2019, 71 children in 2020, and 21 children in the first three months of 2021.

We continue to learn lessons and adapt our methods as we work in partnership with police using this approach.

How does IJM gather and share stories and amplify survivor voices?

The lived experiences of survivors of trafficking help us to understand the real human impact of trafficking and other forms of violence. IJM is committed to telling the stories of survivors responsibly, navigating the complexity which often comes with telling sensitive and personal stories. We have developed robust policies and safety protocols to ensure that we comply with the highest ethical standards and applicable laws in the places that we work. At the core, our story policy is designed around an informed consent approach that ensures survivors maintain control over their own stories and how they are shared.

We affirm that survivors themselves are the experts on their own experiences and seek to learn from them as we design our programmes and advocate for an effective justice system response to violence against people in poverty.

In May 2021, IJM, Ghanaian police and government authorities supported the launch of a new local Ghana Survivor Network, named ‘My Story Counts’. Survivors of child trafficking, child labour and sexual exploitation are joining together to share their expertise and experiences in order to push for change.

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