Labouring the ‘Jacob way’ to freedom …the story of a child trafficking victim
Just when Yaa Henewa (not real name) thought her labour for her trafficker was up, having sold yam for five years in exchange for her freedom, she was hit with a two-year extension.
It was going to be another 24 months of missing out on school and a chance at a bright future despite many promises that preceded her arrival in Accra in 2017 to live with her Aunt’s friend who turned out to be a trafficker.
The 17-year-old girl was picked from a town (withheld) in the Ashanti Region by her aunt under the guise of staying with her friend who needed aid in her home in Accra, but she ended up as a yam seller.
Yaa has had to suffer this fate at the expense of going to school over the years and with the future looking bleak, she yearns to be reconciled with her biological family even if she never gets to go to school.
The condition before she can gain freedom can be likened to that of Jacob in the Holy Bible who for his love for Rachel promised to serve her father for seven years.
The book of Genesis (29:18-30) chronicled how Jacob for the love of Rachel promised to work for his Uncle Laban for seven years to have her and ended up being given Leah. He then had to work for extra seven years before he had Rachel making him work 14 years in all.
The fear now is if Yaa’s trafficker will really set her free after the seven years or just like Jacob make an excuse for her to work more years.
Yaa is among the about 5.5 million children trafficked around the world. These children undergo violence, exploitation and abuse – ending up in work, forced marriage, prostitution, begging and armed recruitment.
Raggie Johansen in an article on human trafficking in Ghana said that human trafficking is an international problem affecting millions of people and many countries around the world. According to her, internal trafficking of children is one of the biggest challenges in Ghana.
Many Ghanaian children are trafficked from their home villages to work in particularly, the fishing and farming industry. They live in unfavourable conditions; work long hours every day and are abused by their traffickers who are desperate to feed their families and eke a living out of them.
The United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United States Department of Homeland Security says that the demand for cheap labour, sexual services and certain criminal activities are among the root causes of trafficking, while poverty, the absence of economic opportunities, and social attitudes and norms are other contributing factors.
What is Child Trafficking?
Child trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, and/or receipt in kidnapping a child for the purpose of adoption, exploitation, forced labour or slavery.
The UN has described it as a horrific crime and an all-out assault on people’s rights, safety and dignity.
“Tragically, it is also a problem that is growing worse – especially for women and girls, who represent the majority of detected trafficked persons globally,” the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres stated on the eve of last year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
According to Ghana’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State, traffickers exploit Ghanaian children in forced labour within the country in inland and coastal fishing, domestic service, street hawking, begging, portering, artisanal gold mining, quarrying, herding, and agriculture, especially in the cocoa sector.
The report states that traffickers exploit children as young as four in forced labour on the Volta Lake and use violence and limited access to food to control their victims.
It said that traffickers force boys to work in hazardous conditions, including in deep diving while girls perform work onshore, such as preparing the fish for markets.
“Traffickers, including middlemen and relatives, recruit girls from other communities and subsequently exploit them in domestic servitude in the Lake Volta region, sometimes with parents’ knowledge.”
“Relatives often send girls via intermediaries to work in harsh conditions in forced labour in domestic work,” the report stated.
The Child Liberation Foundation says that children trafficked are 25 per cent of the over 40 million people trafficked globally.
Also, the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs states that 22 per cent of children in Ghana are engaged in child labour. Of those children, about 60 per cent of them have been trafficked on Lake Volta.
Jennifer O’Brien in her 2017 article on “Ending Child Trafficking in Ghana,” indicated that 3, 000 children were trafficked everyday globally. According to her, it is estimated that child trafficking is an industry that earns $10 million yearly.
The Human Trafficking Secretariat at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) in August last year announced that the number of human trafficking victims including children increased to 831 in 2021 from 587 in 2020.
A baseline study conducted by an NGO, Free The Slaves in 20 communities in the Volta and Central regions in August 2016, indicated that some communities act as source and destination for trafficking.
Across all communities, 35.2 per cent of households consisted of children who had been subjected to trafficking and exploited primarily in the fishing (18%) and domestic servitude (10%) with few reports of early and forced marriage (1%).
In over 20 per cent of the households surveyed, more than one child had been trafficked.
Role of Stakeholders
Organisations like the International Justice Mission (IJM-Ghana) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are both anti-human trafficking agents. As such, they both work to rescue children from trafficking and bring them back to their families.
These and many more stakeholders propagating the anti-human trafficking agenda are implored to assist with the rescuing of children like Yaa to safeguard their rights, dignity and respect.
Parents and guardians are advised to prioritise and seek the welfare of their children no matter their circumstances.
They should follow up and be in the know of the living conditions of their children if they allow relatives and other persons take them (thus their children) to live with them.
An all-inclusive effort
Everyone is needed on board in the fight against human trafficking. All and sundry are to serve as watchdogs on one another and report to authorities if need be.
We must understand that it is unlawful to trample on the human rights of others, children inclusive. We must also be and remain alert about the activities of traffickers so as to identify and blow an alarm when we come across any and the need arise.