ACCRA — The approximately 215 million child laborers in the agricultural sector highlights one of the most tragic consequences of global poverty. At Lake Volta in Ghana, one in six children aged 6 to 14 works 17-hour days in abusive conditions, being punished with starvation as well as beatings. This crisis both results from poverty, as rural families are the most vulnerable to the traffickers’ promises of teaching a trade and perpetuates poverty by removing children from school and causing psychological damage.
The Origins of Lake Volta
Lake Volta was completed in 1965, due to the construction of the hydro-electric Askombo Dam, which supplies most of Ghana’s electricity. The lake supplied fish bountifully for years, but recent declines have caused problems, as it accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s fish catch and the livelihoods of 300,000 people in Ghana.
As the fish get smaller, so must the nets, and children’s fingers are useful for picking the fish out of the nets, one connection between poverty and child labor in Ghana. Their smaller bodies can more easily dart around submerged trees to untangle the nets, take up less space and be physically dominated.
The fishermen usually depend on intermediary traffickers to entice children in from as young as 4 years old. They end up not only picking fish from nets but also paddling boats and working in the fishermen’s homes. An estimated 60 percent of the children were trafficked from other communities in Ghana. Parents are tricked into signing contracts, and as a result, the children face violence, starvation and sexual abuse to motivate their work. This is not only morally reprehensible, but illegal in Ghana.
Child Labor Definition
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, potential, dignity, and that which is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that deprives them of the opportunity to attend school, leave school prematurely, or requires them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”
By this definition, the ILO reports that 20,000 children on Lake Volta qualify as child laborers that were trafficked into hazardous work they legally are not allowed to do. A little more than 99 percent of the children are boys, but girls are at risk as well.
Despite Ghana’s status as a middle-income country since 2011, these vulnerable children prove connections between poverty and child labor in Ghana persist due to the huge wealth gaps between rural and urban areas.
Connection Between Poverty and Child Labor in Ghana
Beginning at the top of the chain, many of the fishermen are low-income earners, and therefore exploit trafficked children to create better lives for their own children, saving money on labor and garnering more fish to provide for their families.
Trafficked children reveal another connection between poverty and child labor in Ghana. They lack access to education, food, clothing and shelter.
Additionally, these child laborers come from poverty. Poor parents often sell their children simply to provide food for their other children. The trade training offered by traffickers entices parents because while education is free in Ghana, the money necessary for books and uniforms is problematic for many rural families.
Ghana has attempted to change this negative correlation between poverty and child labor. The government ratified the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention and Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, setting the minimum age to work at 15 years, 18 years for hazardous work.
In 2010 Ghana adopted a National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Ghana, by 2015. However, in 2019 child slavery remains, due to problems enforcing these laws.
Efforts of the International Justice Mission
In Ghana, the International Justice Mission (IJM) works to rescue victims by partnering with Ghana’s officials and international law enforcement agencies, bringing the traffickers and fishermen to justice under Ghana’s laws and restoring survivors with individual care plans through social services, private aftercare providers, and finding safe homes.
IJM investigated human trafficking on Lake Volta in 2013. The organization’s staff with undercover law enforcement experience interviewed children and adults from 982 boats on the lake and worked with a local research firm to investigate the origins of children on the lake.
IJM recommends that the Ghanaian government prioritizes prosecuting the perpetrators and providing psychological support for the children first. But then IJM recommends addressing the vulnerability from the connected poverty and child labor in Ghana by increasing access to education and economic empowerment.
The organization continues to work in Ghana to address the gaps in government care. In 2019, the organization will be partnering with Cru, a Christian missions organization to train and bring volunteers to work with the young boys in an aftercare center, educating and playing with them.
Other Efforts to Combat Child Labor in Ghana
IJM is not the only organization working on Lake Volta. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has rescued more than 700 children since 2002, working to give them psychological support and eventually bringing them back to their villages, and ideally monitoring them with their families. IOM works with families to help the children find apprenticeships and offers parents job training as well, combatting the connections between poverty and child labor in Ghana.
IOM also focuses on community outreach programs, creating awareness of traffickers, as well as attempting to educate traffickers.
Another organization, Challenging Heights — established in 2003 — has also freed hundreds of child slaves. The founder, James Kofi Annan, was a trafficked child laborer who escaped, an example of the restoration and healing possible for the young victims of human trafficking on Lake Volta.
– Charlotte Preston