The United Nations estimates that 79 percent of human trafficking victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, the second most common reason for trafficking is forced labour.
The Issue of the Fishing Industry
According to the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime one the biggest reasons for child trafficking in Ghana is the fishing industry. Fishermen on Lake Volta are often in poverty and exploit children by forcing them into work. Unemployment is rife and fish stocks in the artificial lake are depleting hence such desperate measures from fishermen trying to stay above the poverty line. Children are useful workers for fishermen because the nets they use to catch the fish are tiny and the small, quick fingers of young children are useful for sorting through the nets and retrieving fish.
The UNODC also explains that children are used as divers to untangle caught netting which then leads to them contracting waterborne diseases and being put at risk of drowning.
It is worth noting that traditions in Ghana of children being sent to work for extended family can also be partly to blame for what is now seen as child trafficking. Many fishermen believe they are doing the right thing by teaching children how to swim, dive and catch fish well – all skills they see as integral part of life. It is therefore necessary to approach the issue of child trafficking in the fishing industry sensitively, it is not always as simple as big scary men kidnapping unsuspecting children from their beds.
However, formal education is something that Ghanian society is seeing as increasingly important and the government have been strengthening their approach and tolerance of trafficking over the last 20 years. An anti-trafficking bill has been firmly in place since 2005. Gradually peoples’ attitudes towards trafficking, specifically in fishing industries, is changing and a number of hugely valuable schemes are in place across the country to return trafficked children home, give them counselling and often aid parents and traffickers financially.
The issue of Trokosi
Trokosi is a traditional cult system in which virgin girls are confined to traditional religious shrines in order to pay for wrong doings committed by relatives. These shrines are often referred to as fetish shrines. Trokosi is also known as ritual servitude and traditionally some families believe that by sacrificing their daughter or female relative their wrong doings will be forgiven by the Gods. This practice is illegal in Ghana but is thought to still happen in rural areas of Ghana as well as rural Nigeria, Togo and Benin.
One of the biggest issues with Trokosi is that often the priests at the shrines sexually abuse the girls whenever they please and deny them adequate food and education.
As is common with many cultural traditions there are disagreements between the government and NGO’s who believe it is a violation of human rights and international law and with local groups who believe it is just maintaining a cultural practice.
It is important to view child trafficking carefully and not see it as just a single issue. These are just two types of trafficking in Ghana and it is necessary to see how they’re interwoven with poverty and education and not stand alone issues. As with many trafficking issues the root can often be culturally sensitive and therefore solutions take care and time to resolve.
If you would like to work with children and vulnerable young people in Ghana then have a look at our orphanage project here