Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Labour of love

Last week, I wrote about visiting a town called Sogakope with reporters from a paper called The Statesman. They were working on a story about child trafficking and we visited with some children and parents that had participated in a rescue and rehabilitation program. Here is the story that appear in The Statesman last weekend:

"Trafficked children in desperate need of rescuing"

By Albert Oppong Ansah, Fred Tettey Alarti-Amoako and Eva Salinas

The Statesman, February 10, 2007

David Gozey wants to be a doctor. The 13-year-old, who lives in Vume with his Aunt, is quick to reveal his future plans. But for now he will settle on attending school, where his favourite subjects are mathematics and English, and playing football.

Already it is a life starkly different compared to his earlier years, when David was one of thousands of Ghanaian children who are trafficked and forced to work at a young age.His is a typical story – he spent years working long hours for fishermen in the Volta Region.

David remembers his time spent scooping water from the boat; and working with other children whose main tasks were preparing fish, mending nets and diving to the deep bottom of the lake – the latter job putting the lives of young boys at serious risk.

Fortunately for David, these are memories that have begun to fade. It has been four years since he was rescued and reintegrated into his family as part of the African Centre for Human Development (ACHD)'s anti-child trafficking programme.

The programme, which started in 2001 and continued until its $300,000 in private funding ran out in 2005, rescued 1,560 children between the ages of four and 16. At present, the organisation is looking for new financing in order to continue. It estimates that there are upwards of 200,000 Ghanaian children that have been trafficked and are in desperate need of rescuing. Most of whom are denied schooling, over-worked, and abused physically or sexually.

"All those children you see selling ice water, they are all trafficked children. All those children are working for people. Accra is one of the recipient areas of trafficked children, and most of them turn into street children," said Mr Wilbert Tengey, the programme's executive director.

Programmes such as his, and others like that run by the international organisation for migration, under the United Nations, have tackled the problem by checking borders, interviewing children and negotiating with employers for the safe return of the children, at times with cooperation of local authorities.

However, despite the 2005 Human Trafficking Act, many authorities close their eyes to the problem, Mr Tengey said, making the task of rescuing children more challenging.

"There are not many organisations that are interested in this kind of job," he continued, "Why? Because it's difficult, it is very frustrating and sometimes, it can very emotionally taxing."

The rewards, on the other hand, are plenty. Last week, a number of rescued children, including David, sat down with The Statesman in Sogakope, where the ACHD ran one of three rehabilitation homes, and recounted their stories.

"We met strong winds and if we were unable to paddle, we were beaten," David recalled of his time working.

His aunt said she is not sure how David ended up in the hands of fishermen, though she knows it happened sometime after his father died when he was around five years old. Both she and staff with the programme were unable to locate his mother.

Also present was Abigail Anafle, 16, and her mother, Juliana Amehlor, who have been reunited for three years now. Abigail was sent to work in her grandmother's home, where she was prevented from attending school and from seeing her mother.

14-year-old Edem Tamekloe's story resembles David's, as he also worked on boats in Lake Volta when he was just seven years old.

One mother, Mary Amlalo, came to tell the story of her two children, though they refused to attend the gathering. Their classmates tease them about being trafficked because it means their family is poor, Mrs Amlalo said, so they avoid associated with the rehabilitation group.

Mrs Amlalo, a potter with eight children, admitted she felt obligated to send two of the children away to help finance the family. She was promised 200,000 cedis per year for the labour of each child.

"I was aware it was hard work but I had no choice," she said.

Two years later, an older son visited the children and returned to tell Mrs Amlalo that they were suffering. "The dreadful things they saw" were reason enough to bring them home, Mrs Amlalo said, adding that her son has since told her how he would see the bodies of other children when diving in the lake.

In the end, the family received only a quarter of the payment promised.Mr Peter Debrah, supervisor of the Sogakope house, said after educating the community, many parents like Mrs Amlalo came forward, requesting that the organisation help find and rescue their children.

He added that the majority of families allow their children to be taken away, as they cannot afford to look after them and need the extra income. Because poverty remains a factor, he continued, there have been cases when rescued children were trafficked again.

To prevent such an event, families were provided with school supplies and financial support. Watch groups, made up of teachers, assembly members, chiefs, social workers and members of the local social welfare department, have formed to continue educating the community and check in on the families.

"Child trafficking can be reduced but not totally eradicated," Mr Debrah said. "The first step should be education and awareness…The law is there. You pass the law and it is just sitting there."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark and Janet,

What a story. We can't even imagine how these people have to live. I am sure it is quite a thing to experience for the two of you. You are both special people. I am sure you have a lot to learn from these special people too.
Love, Mummy and Daddy