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Stop Child Trafficking: Join IJM and Guvna B to build a world where every child is free

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Stop Child Trafficking: Join IJM and Guvna B to build a world where every child is free

Anti-slavery and anti-violence NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) works to tackle child trafficking around the world. Ahead of IJM's Radio 4 appeal, featuring Guvna B, we’ll explain why 2021 is a crucial year for ending child exploitation and dive into the work of IJM Ghana as they tackle child trafficking in the fishing industry, and explain how you can get involved.

Did you know that 2021 is the UN year for the elimination of child labour?

Yet 152 million children around the world are currently working in all kinds of industries such as agriculture, fishing and mining (ILO). In the very worst cases, children are being trafficked and sold for their labour.

Like numerous industries around the world, the fishing industry in Ghana’s Lake Volta sees many children each year tricked or coerced into dangerous work.

Children as young as five years old are forced into life-threatening situations by their exploiters: made to dive into the lake to disentangle fishing nets, putting them at risk of drowning.

“We had gone to draw the net and I was asked to dive and disentangle the net. When I went down, I was unable to disentangle it because it was dark down there. So I came up and was hit by the paddle at the back of my head. That’s how I got the scars”, said one survivor.

Child Trafficking Today

It’s a problem that doesn’t always hit headlines, but according to the International Labour Organization, child labour is work that deprives children of “their childhood, their potential and their dignity”. IJM works on the worst forms of child labour, which include the sale and trafficking of children.

These are considered to be among the worst forms of child labour as they put children at increased risk of harm. On Lake Volta, IJM’s research found that children who were trafficked worked longer hours, performed more hazardous work and were more frequently prevented from attending school as compared to non-trafficked children in the fishing industry. Plus, trafficked children did not have proper clothing and shelter and were more likely to be beaten, with trafficked girls at risk of sexual exploitation and forced marriage.

IJM’s work tackling the trafficking of children means we know firsthand how children can be violently exploited and abused in the labour market. This exploitation can often last for years, leaving children traumatised and robbing them of an education and, consequently, the chance of a better future.


Why 2021 is a pivotal year to keep children safe

The United Nations declared 2021 the Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. Much progress has been made in tackling child labour over the past two decades, with the estimated number of children engaged in labour down to 246 million in 16, compared to 152 million in 2020. But this progress is at risk of being reversed, due to the impact of the pandemic: up to 150 million people are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, pushing vulnerable children into the hands of traffickers.

The increasing number of families in poverty, plus school closures, create the perfect conditions for child labour in its worst forms. Financial stress, the death of adult wage earners or family members falling sick may place pressure on children to work. And with some children not in school, traffickers have more opportunities to lure and deceive children into exploitation. An IJM operation in 2020 found that 35 teen girls had been promised employment while schools were closed. Instead, they were trapped and forced to work 14-hour days in spinning mills.

Plus, with schools closed, who will notice when children disappear? Stay at home orders have meant that teachers, who normally act as safeguards against abuse, can no longer look out for signs of exploitation.

Further, public justice systems, particularly in lower income countries, are operating at lower capacity than normal due to COVID-19. That means law enforcement is stretched, and less able to act. This means traffickers are enjoying more impunity than ever from detection and prosecution.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is hope for children trapped in forced labour – even during the pandemic. IJM has found that, through working with local law enforcement to improve detection and facilitate rescue operations, as well as training local legal professionals to improve prosecution for offenders, we are able to drastically reduce child trafficking and exploitation at source. Plus, through providing aftercare for survivors, we’ve seen children able to go back to school and enjoy better, safer futures.

This has been true even during the challenges of COVID-19. In Ghana, for example, in 2020 we saw 71 children brought to safety from Lake Volta, 40 perpetrators arrested and three convicted. This is part of a deep systemic change: once traffickers see others convicted, they will be discouraged from continuing to exploit children due to fear of the consequences, leading to further reduction of trafficking in the longer term.

Lives are being transformed at an individual level: take Godwin, for example.

He was trafficked onto Lake Volta in his early teens deceived by a woman claiming to be his aunt, who told him she would take him on a trip to buy school books over the holidays. He was taken far from his family and left to work for a fisherman, performing dangerous tasks such as diving to untangle nets. He soon realised he’d been tricked, and stopped worrying that he wouldn’t make it back to school in time for term to start – now he had a far greater worry: that he wouldn’t survive.

But one day, Godwin heard strangers calling his name. It was the Ghanaian Police, supported by IJM’s Ghanaian team. They brought Godwin to safety, and he chose to use his freedom to help free others, giving authorities the names of six other boys and two girls, who were also rescued.

Today, Godwin is back in school and flourishing. He wants his story to be heard in the hopes that in doing so, he will bring freedom to even more children.

How can you help children like Godwin?

IJM’s May Appeal raises funds to help us work to transform justice systems around the world to stop the worst forms of child labour at source. As well as bringing children to safety from trafficking and forced labour and restoring them through trauma-informed aftercare, we’re working to make sure that systems are in place to stop any child being exploited in the first place.

On Sunday 23rd May at 7.54am (and repeated throughout the week), you can hear Guvna B speak on BBC Radio 4 about how he believes Godwin's story needs to be heard, why believes in our mission, and what you can do to get involved.

We believe that children belong in schools, families and playgrounds – not forced, tricked and trafficked to work in dangerous conditions. Will you join us as we work to make this a reality for every child?

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