They have spoilt our names just to achieve their own mission- Story of an Anti-Trafficker

They have spoilt our names just to achieve their own mission, an Anti-Trafficker narrated how children are trafficked around the Volta lake. Human trafficking is an international problem affecting millions of people and many countries around the world.

In Ghana, West Africa, the internal trafficking of children is one of the biggest challenges. Many Anti-Traffickers and Anti-Trafficking agencies are beginning to do a lot of sensitization.

Many Ghanaian children are trafficked from their home villages to work in the fishing industry. Living in meagre conditions and working long hours every day, these kids are exploited by fishermen desperate to feed their families and eke out a living along the banks of Lake Volta.

It is no secret that children work on the lake with their families. But these are not child trafficking victims, or slaves, or any of the other lies they keep saying about us. It makes me so angry. They have spoilt our names just to achieve their own mission, or to raise money for themselves, or whatever. I’m not sure why they do it. But it’s very bad that they do.

Jubilee Benson

Children were stolen under the mistaken belief that we harbored child trafficking victims

Jubilee Benson

Jubilee Benson is part of a series of child workers in Ghana. He is the local assembly member for a collection of communities around Lake Volta that have been singled out for intervention by people seeking to end child labour. His answers were translated out of Twi and edited for clarity.

Dzifah Tamakloe
Children are not objects

Jubilee Benson is the assembly member for the 14 island and riverine communities of Kpala, Agbasiagba, Anakpokpo, Akakpo, Agordatokope, Abionikope, Adakope. Kpalatornu, Bakpakope, Salefe, Meyikpor, Awonakope, Agegetokope and Amankwa Tornu in Ghana. He is in his third term, and has represented the 4,000 people in his electoral area for nearly 12 years. He is a native of Kpala island.

It began in 2017. Some white people from an NGO and the Ghanaian police showed up and began to patrol the waters around our islands in speedboats. Then they started taking away our children under the mistaken belief that we harbored child trafficking victims.

Many children were forcibly taken from their parents. It led to a lot of fear and anger. Some families ran into the bush; some even left the islands. I know at least two women divorced their husbands because they allowed the police to take their children away. But it wasn’t the men’s fault. They came with big guns and speedboats. Even the brave ones would have been scared. How can anyone defend themselves or their families against something like that?

It is no secret that children work on the lake with their families. But these are not child trafficking victims, enslaved people, or any other lies they keep saying about us. It makes me so angry. They have spoilt our names to achieve their mission, raise money for themselves, or whatever. I’m not sure why they do it. But it’s awful that they do.

They have not been coming in recent months, and we hope they have stopped forever. If they want to know why children work on the lake, they could go and talk to us as you have. They could even stay on our islands to understand our situation. Instead, they steal our children and beat their parents.

If you want to reduce the number of working children on the lake, developing our islands is the best thing to do

It is straightforward: we live on islands, and work is necessary to survive here. You and your family will starve if you can’t fish on the lake or work the land as a farmer. These are the only ways we have to take care of ourselves, and if you can’t do them, you either move away or you die. It’s common sense. It’s necessary.

If you want to reduce the number of working children on the lake, developing our islands is the best thing to do. We lack so many things. Out of the 14 communities in my district, three have schools, and two have clinics. Only one island has electricity.

If you want to reduce the number of working children on the lake, developing our islands is the best thing to do.

That same island has the only mechanized borehole to produce clean water – but it currently isn’t working. This means that not a single one of the 14 islands has a decent water source. At least eight communities have no amenities: no water, electricity, schools, clinics, or anything else. Sometimes our children fall sick from bad water or other disease outbreaks. Those who don’t know the situation may blame the children’s poor health on their work, but the real problem is bad water and no access to proper medical treatment.

Dzifah Tamakloe
Child trafficking is illegal

Not having amenities creates extra costs. Families must work hard to send their children elsewhere for school, buy fuel for generators and canoes, and transport people to other towns when they get sick. This means that children must support their families’ fishing or farming activities for most households.

I would first find a solution to the four main problems our children, and we face. These are a lack of access to education, jobs other than fishing and farming, healthcare, and electricity.

Education must be brought to every island by providing school infrastructure and ensuring that trained teachers come and teach our children. Health clinics must be established on every island and a hospital on Kpala or Amankwa Tornu to deal with more complex cases. These days we have to go to a bigger town to access emergency healthcare, and a person can die during the journey.

We need a mini electricity grid to power all the islands and integrate us into the rest of Ghana. We’re cut off here, and that’s why bad things like child kidnapping can happen without anybody knowing the actual situation. Building this infrastructure would, in turn, create further job opportunities and skills on these islands and introduce our youth to alternative life avenues.

Finally, we need scholarship opportunities. We have one boy who scored excellent results and gained admission to a medical school. He would have missed out on this opportunity if benevolent people hadn’t helped pay for his first year, but the subsequent years aren’t guaranteed. I fear he will end up back here on the lake with his family if we can’t find the money to support him.

This has been the story for many of our children. The children don’t make it far even when they and their parents sweat to access education outside the islands. They end up back on the lake because they don’t have the means to continue their education, even if they have the marks.

Nobody here wants a child to fall sick or get injured. So, we train our children by starting with child-appropriate tasks –  like casting water out of the canoe or watching over the canoe as the adults bring in the nets. We gradually give them more responsibilities as they get older and more robust. But things can indeed go wrong in every type of work. Injuries occur no matter how hard we try to prevent them.

The big answer to your question is, I think, to bring new technology to our area. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but it’s getting harder to make a profit on the lake because fish stocks are declining. I am a fisherman, and I see this. Many of us return with empty nets after hours out on the water.

We could increase safety and incomes while decreasing workloads if we started to farm fish instead of catching them. This requires less labour and would also reduce the need for children to go out onto the lake. As an island, we already have many critical requirements for this venture. All we require is funding and the technical support to introduce it. Doing so would bring a lot of relief to families and children.

The other issue is irrigation facilities for farming. We have a lake and thus an endless amount of water to make our farming more profitable. But the job is labour intensive; children suffer because they are the ones who fetch water to do the irrigation manually. If we had proper irrigation facilities it would reduce their burden.

These sorts of changes would make a big difference. Children wouldn’t have to work as much as they do now. Nor would their parents.

Article slightly edited from the original version

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