By: James Kofi Annan
I know you just came out of a very turbulent vetting and approval process. It was tough, so you probably would wish that I allowed you to settle first, before I brought my problems to you.
Last year, I did an open letter to the then Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. Amongst the critical questions I asked was whether she thought Ghana could end Human Trafficking in the next foreseeable future?
According to a US 2016 State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s report, the government of Ghana has decreased efforts to identify and to support victims of human trafficking. The report further states that the Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare provided care for only 17 victims of child trafficking for the entire 2016, and this would not have been possible but for the financial support provided by donors.
I would like to juxtapose this government effort with the effort of just one single NGO, Challenging Heights. Just within one operation, Challenging Heights was able to rescue 18 children from trafficking situations. In the year 2016 alone, Challenging Heights provided services for 120 rescued and rehabilitated boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 17, all rescued from fishing communities along the Volta Lake. So far, since 2005, Challenging Heights has rescued and rehabilitated over 1,500 victims of human trafficking. The entire Ghana government has not done even a quarter of this figure under the same period.
A couple of years ago, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report rated Ghana on Tier Two Watch list. This rating was repeated in the year 2016 as the government of Ghana took no serious effort at addressing the issue of human trafficking.
Last year, the US government issued a warning that if government did not show sufficient commitment to the fight against human trafficking, Ghana was going to lose some vital support that the US government was giving to the country, and this could mean over $500million in aid and other support.
Somewhere last year, a man who felt enslaved by poverty, actually sold four of his children, all boys, to a fisherman on the Volta Lake. All four of them were sold for GH¢500. Challenging Heights, together with the Ghana Police Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, pursued this case, and within three days, we had rescued all four boys.
Unfortunately, in such a classical case, the government of Ghana failed to provide any resource in the operation to rescue and to care for the children. Challenging Heights paid for every single cost, including transportation for all the members of the operations team, we paid for hotel bills and feeding, for every single person, including the police. In addition, we paid for the care of the children, including the after care. We had to pay for transporting the children from our rehabilitation center to the courts during the prosecution processes.
I will reiterate my point that sometimes I feel real pains in the way our government has been handling the issue of Human Trafficking in Ghana. It appears it is a non issue, and therefore government is unprepared to invest any of our tax money into addressing the situation. Nearly every action that has taken place has been because some donors had provided funding; from the Human Trafficking Act itself, to the Legislative Instrument, to training of the security agencies, to nearly everything; foreign governments, UNICEF, ILO, IOM, have been the ones providing funds for every single action that has taken place.
Recently, the United States government provided some $5million to support government efforts at addressing the issue of human trafficking. This money was given to Free the Slaves, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to support government efforts. Some of the funds are to be used to rescue victims; others are for the training of security agencies.
The government of Ghana has shown a complete lack of interest in providing any counterpart support in this project. This is worrying, as we cannot shirk our responsibilities, and expect a better future for our children. We cannot ignore a problem as big as human trafficking, and expect to stay clean in the comity of nations.
We need to recognize that all over the world, countries are taking actions to address human trafficking. The US itself faces the problem of human trafficking in its country. But the US government has made the issue of human trafficking a top priority. The British, the American and several other governments, seeing the threat human trafficking poses, have invested several hundreds of millions of dollars annually in the last decade to fight the menace, both in their own countries, and abroad.
The Vatican, led by Pope Francis, recently initiated a multi faith worldwide project to address the issue of human trafficking. I had the rare privilege of being part of this project from the beginning. The Anglican Church, through its Anglican Alliance, is also implementing projects across the world, and I have been blessed to be part of that project too.
It is worrying to note the new trend here in Ghana, on the Volta Lake, where we are seeing an increasing number of victims who are teenage mothers, and teenage spouses. In a recent research done by Challenging Heights, with support from the Canadian government, we discovered a shocking 40% of girls between the ages of 11 and 16 being victims of early child marriage among children who worked in forced labor in the fishing industry. This is worse than the 33% national average.
It is roughly estimated that for every 100 boy child victims who spend 10 years on the Volta Lake, more than 30% of them are likely to be married off by age 17, and for every 100 girl child victims who spend 10 years on the Volta Lake, 20% of them are likely to be married off by age 14. We also estimate that for every 100 boy child victims who spend 10 years on the Volta Lake, nearly 60 girls under 15 are likely to be married off from the source communities to 60 of those boys on the Lake.
These estimates show that urgent action is needed to break the cycle. Otherwise, as we see this trend increasing, and we see more younger boys and girls being married off at early ages, we will be faced with a more difficult problem to solve.
We need some serious action. Right here in Ghana, children are being sold and bought for as low as GH¢100. On the Volta Lake, we have boys and girls, some as young as six years, working day and night, some working between the hours of 3am and 8pm. They cast nets, they paddle canoes, they ply outboard motors, they mend nets, they remove fishes, and they dive deep into the lake to remove trapped nets.
We have girls who have been thrown into perpetual servitude, and they serve as sex materials for men who work for older child victims, in addition to working as fishmongers and cooks. These are boys and girls who are oiling the wheels of Ghana’s economy at the expense of their freedom, education, health, development, and future. These are boys and girls who have resigned into believing that it is okay to torture other children. These are boys and girls who have been living disposable lives. These boys and girls die needless unreported deaths, some through work related risks, others through work torture, while still others die as a result of neglect.
I know that there is some visible progress in reducing the numbers of children trapped in servitude on the Volta Lake. This I will mainly attribute to the efforts of civil society organizations, perhaps supported by the Legislative and institutional frameworks created by the Ghana government. But more needs to be done, and government needs to show sincere commitment in investing in programs aimed at addressing the issues.
The government of Ghana is about to draw its fiscal budget for the year 2017. I put the same questions to your predecessor; how much would you put in your 2017 fiscal budget to address the issue of Human Trafficking in Ghana? How much would you budget for the Human Trafficking Secretariat? How much would you ask for Police-Ministry collaborative operations? How many shelters would you like to build in the ensuing year?