Child trafficking is a prevalent issue across the globe. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around the fact that slavery, in any form, still exists, let alone the slavery of children. Today, one of the most heart-wrenching forms of child labor taking place exists within the fishing industry on Lake Volta in Ghana.
As one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Lake Volta boasts a flourishing industry that’s a significant contributor to Ghana’s economy. Unfortunately, the lake is also home to an estimated 20,000 child slaves (International Labour Organization). Children as young as five are sold to human traffickers and made to work as fishermen for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week without adequate rest or food.
In recent years, there have been various documentaries and news stories exposing the horrible reality that is happening on Lake Volta. This attention has increased public awareness about the issue and has helped secure freedom and care for many children who have been victimized by this grueling industry. However, despite these on-the-ground efforts, thousands of children continue to be exploited. The reality of this is a testament to the fact that we all need to be taking an active role in helping to fight and end this inhumanity. It’s simply unacceptable to turn a blind eye when the injustice taking place is so inexplicable.
The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report shares that “donor funded research focused on the fishing industry on Lake Volta indicated that more than half of the children working on and around the lake were born in other communities and many of these children are victims of forced labor; not allowed to attend school; given inadequate housing and clothing; and controlled by fishermen through intimidation, violence, and limited access to food.” Meanwhile, many of the men controlling the children are reportedly sending their own kids to private schools and providing them with the comfort of a home and all that entails (The CNN Freedom Project).
In addition, the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report shows that traffickers, or the “masters” as they are called by the boys, force the children, again as young as five years old, to work in extremely hazardous conditions difficult for grown men, let alone small children. These harsh elements include deep diving into murky water to untangle nets with their tiny fingers as their lungs burn from lack of oxygen. The children often suffer from waterborne infections in addition to severe fatigue and malnutrition. Another sobering fact is that many of the children do not know how to swim when they first start out. However, they must either learn very quickly or suffer the alternative.
Although boys are vastly targeted by the traffickers, girls are also taken and expected to perform work on shore such as cooking, cleaning fish, and preparing fish for market. They are also very vulnerable to sexual abuse and forced marriage for the purpose of exploitation.
Recently, our Africa director visited Lake Volta to get a firsthand look at the trafficking taking place and to determine the possibility of expanding our anti-trafficking work there. He states, “Although I had heard of the potential trafficking on Lake Volta, I needed to see it for myself before LJI committed resources to the project. Unfortunately, after conducting interviews, taking a trip to the lake, and seeing the children's home that’s used to house former victims, it was clear that the situation is as bad as all the research and anecdotal data has suggested. I am really excited about the project we will start there in the future, and I am really hoping our efforts will amplify those already present on the lake.”
Many of the children on Lake Volta are trafficked from their home villages. Oppressive poverty drives parents and family members to sell their own children to traffickers who are looking to sustain their own incomes by exploiting children living in meager conditions. The children are given the most dangerous and difficult jobs and are often subjected to horrible violence if they don’t work fast enough or hard enough.
LJI’s multimedia content creator shares her experience stating, "I was able to travel to Ghana to help produce films on the issue of child trafficking both in 2017 and 2019. It was surreal realizing that a land so beautiful, a lake so vast and eerily peaceful, could at the same time hold some of the world's darkest injustices. Coming face to face with the reality of what these children experience on the lake every day has forever wrecked my heart.”
She continues, “The majority of the children being trafficked on Lake Volta are younger than 10 years old—forced to dive underwater for minutes at a time, untangling nets with their tiny hands. They have become the perfect asset to keep this fishing industry running, despite the harsh and life-threatening conditions. What boggles my mind most is not only how common child labor is in Ghana, but that it's a crime wide out in the open, not being hidden in the shadows. It's extremely complex and messy, to the point that family members are involved in the trafficking of their very own children. To be honest, each time I've left this country, I've been faced with more questions than answers. But, because of those on the ground, working relentlessly every day to see an end to this slavery, my heart does carry hope that change is possible. Until then, I choose not to be silent, and I will do whatever I can to shine a light on this darkness, awakening the world to stand up for these forgotten children being robbed of their childhood."
We are excited to be expanding our anti-trafficking efforts into Ghana over the coming year. We are hopeful that our interception strategy will help to reinforce and strengthen the work that is already being done there to stop the trafficking of these beautiful and innocent children.