To paraphrase the saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln laws without enforcement are just good pieces advice. Stakeholders in the fight against child trafficking like the International Justice Mission (IJM) in Ghana have found this to be especially true.
It’s fine to accept that the wheels of grind slowly. The problem in Ghana appears to be forcing the wheel from a state of stasis. Many children are trafficked from their villages to work in the fishing industry around the Volta Lake. After about a year of full operations, where the IJM has engaged in about five rescue missions on the Volta Lake in 2018, a number of gaps in the fight against child trafficking have become apparent.
I was fortunate to be part of a media forum on the state of child trafficking in Ghana were IJM’s Field Office Director, Will Lathrop noted the poor capacity of state welfare agencies and the government’s inability to provide facilities for rescued children who are all but orphans.
“Not all kids can go back home [if rescued], maybe their parents have died or maybe they are from Togo or Nigeria or they don’t even know where they live,” Mr. Lathrop reminded.
But the most important gap remains the lack of enforcement of the laws, which is necessary to turn the tide of child trafficking.
Back in 2013, IJM’s operational assessment on the Southern Part of Lake Volta found that 57.6 percent, representing 444 of 771 children working on southern part of Lake Volta alone were trafficked into forced labor. The assessment concluded that the majority of children working on the lake are too young as about 20 percent of them were six years old or younger.
The Global Slavery Index currently estimates that there are 21, 000 children working in and around the Volta Lake. Of course, there are nuances to consider as some of these children fall under the grey area of child labour; which is a whole other discussion on its own.
The fact remains that child trafficking is illegal in Ghana. But the problem isn’t the lack of laws. It’s the lack of enforcement which, in IJM’s eyes, pushes us towards chaos.
“If you have rules in your house that nobody ever enforces then your house will be chaos and the country is the same way… usually, that chaos is pushed down on the poor,” Mr. Walthrop observed. “Ghana has great international law on its books.”
Ghana prohibits all forms of trafficking through the 2005 Human Trafficking Act, which prescribes a minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for all forms of trafficking. There are also some other incredibly detailed systems in the Act eliminate this crime. But like illegal mining over the years, the law has done little to serve as a deterrent.
On the lake itself, the idea of law perhaps exists only in dream states. There are tales of children are routinely beaten with sticks, paddles and heavy ropes. Trafficked children, some sold for as low as GHc 40, are stripped of their innocence and live in harrowing conditions marked by poor nutrition, zero healthcare and even sexual assault on some occasions.
IJM remains hopeful the law will regain some bite and return some semblance of justice to the Volta Lake. But this may take a good while, which is why the NGO perhaps saw it fit to spend time with the press in hope that it could form an ally that, in the short term, will be more effective than the law.
“The media is so critical to change here and it is integral to keep people accountable.”
With the failings in law enforcement, the media looks like the most effective card anti-human trafficking organizations can play. And it is not just about splashing a story about a dozen kids being rescued. It is about counting the social cost and holding a mirror up to prick the conscience of society and the people who are supposed to ensure order.
Just like the media in Ghana did for illegal mining, maybe child trafficking can be transformed into a nationwide anathema that prompts more action from a better-resourced taskforce.
“I think the media raising awareness on this problem and building momentum of intolerance makes prosecution easier,” Mr. Walthhrop said.
So what is the media expected to do? I guess we can stick to the basics and tell stories and unravel the layers of the various variables in the child trafficking chain. We could question the simplistic idea that child trafficking is simply a function of poverty when maybe it has more to do with a vicious economic cycle.
IJM, for one, feels the problem of child trafficking is very much an economic problem. To put it in the simple words of the IJM boss, “the trafficking drives the poverty that allows the trafficking in the first place. If you have to hire adults to do the work of children, there will be a lot more employed people around Ghana.”
Now while an NGO won’t go out on a limb and declare that the media is more critical than the law in the short term, they insist the media and the law work hand in hand.
But it is clear to me the law is down on its knees and in need of a helping hand from the fourth estate. This will ultimately benefit IJM and other anti-trafficking organisations like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Challenging Heights; that have also been very active in Ghana.
It would also help if the NGOs were able to back their faith in the media with funding. The stark reality is a reporter will have to fly on a magic mat of cash to a place like Yeji for an extensive piece on child trafficking in that community.
Mind you, the media helping the law to its feet is just a first step. Such are the deep-seated and systemic problems in Ghana that even when the law is enforced and charges are filed, we are now presented with another gap; the lack of resources under the umbrella of the Attorney General that hinder extensive investigations and prosecution. But little drops of water make a mighty ocean. If there is one thing history has proven, it’s that mere keystrokes can contribute to great waves of reform.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessa| citinewsroom.com | Ghana