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Observations of a foreign intern

Breaking the trafficking cycle

Observations of a foreign intern

Every day small boys are trafficked by fishermen to enter a life cycle full of defeat and hard work. But inside the fishing communities I have come to experience that a few dedicated individuals have started swimming against the tide in their attempt to break the cycle of the trafficked children.

By Jeppe Hedegaard

A fisherman is calmly paddling from the back of a canoe. At the front of the boat a muscular boy around the age of 15 is pulling in fishing nets, and just next to him a tiny seven-year old boy is endlessly scooping out water to prevent the canoe from sinking.

The roles of the two child crewmembers seem definite and clear. But over the next few years their roles are very likely to change because the development of trafficked boys working in the fishing communities around Lake Volta follows a certain cycle that is keeping the issue of child trafficking alive in Ghana.

In the first years the small boy will be scooping out water or paddling the canoe, but as he gets older, he will begin to take part in the fishing activities pulling in fishing nets, taking fish out of the nets and even diving down under the water to disentangle fishing nets from stones and tree stumps. And eventually when the boy has been properly trained and is considered old enough his master will stay onshore and let the older boy go on the lake with a group of younger boys of whom he is now the master.

In the fishing communities thousands of trafficked boys have lived through this cycle ultimately ending up as masters of other trafficked children. Every day a new Ghanaian child is trafficked into these communities as he enters the first phase of a trafficked child’s cycle.

But even though the cycle is deeply rooted in the mindset of the people from the fishing communities, I truly believe that the cycle is breakable. From meeting the most passionate Ghanaian people involved in the national and local fight against the trafficking of Ghanaian children I feel convinced that their effort will help to erase this issue over time.

On a Lake Volta island I recently met one of these dedicated people; a former fisherman who was previously a master of several trafficked children. For the amount of 100 cedis per boy he bought five boys on a two-year contract from Ada in the southern part of the Volta Region. And when the contract ended he came back to the parents to buy the boys for another two-year period.

Observations of a foreign intern

But one day the fisherman came into contact with members of a local NGO who gave him information about child trafficking and convinced him to put an end to his illegal actions. He gave up the five trafficked children who worked for him, but he decided he would do more than that.

In an attempt to change the islanders’ opinions he began walking from door to door explaining to people why child trafficking is wrong, and on several occasions his unannounced visits let to threats and even violent reactions by angry fishermen who did not agree with his controversial opinions. Normally these threats would scare a person away, but the day after he was physically threatened he would show up at the same doorstep only to repeat his message.

I can certainly understand that many people from within the communities are struggling to break out of this cycle. Most of them have grown up in the fishing industry where children have always been seen as part of the workforce, and some of the people from the communities may even have been trafficked children themselves. They have never known another life, so why should they ever think that trafficking of children and the use of them on the lake is wrong and begin to fight it?

For me it was remarkable to meet a person from inside the community who has been able to change his own mindset and takes personal actions against his community’s trafficking cycle. Hopefully other fishermen will be exposed to his message in the future and will chose to swim against the tide with him so that the water scooping boys will not have to end up as the cruel masters they once worked for.

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