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Africa

23 Children Held as Slaves on Island in Ghana are Free

Two girls and 21 boys between the ages of 6 and 16 years old were rescued out of slavery in the fishing industry in Ghana the last week in April.

Two weeks of investigations had revealed more than 20 trafficked children being exploited for labour on an island near a forest reserve along Lake Volta. Based on this information, the Ghana Police Service with support from IJM launched a rescue operation to find the children that had been identified, and arrest the traffickers and boat masters who had forced the children to fish without pay and without school.

But after a two-hour boat ride, when police arrived on the island, there were no children to be found. Not only the trafficked children were missing, there were no children in the community at all. The community had learned about the rescue ahead of time and had hidden the children on other islands or in the nearby forest.

The police arrested eight suspects. When questioned, the suspects confessed that they had loaded a group of trafficked children into a van and sent them back to their home communities that same night.

The police immediately sent a team to intercept the van carrying 15 children and take them to a safe centre where they could be interviewed and cared for by social workers.

Finally, the slave masters who were in custody called their family members back on the island and told them to turn in the children they had been hiding. Eight more children were delivered to the police.

The children were initially terrified. Their masters had lied to them, telling them that the people who had come to rescue them were really there to kill them. It took time and patience for IJM and Department of Social Welfare social workers to win their trust, but eventually the children understood they were not in danger.

Most of the children had been away from their parents for more than two years.

One boy, 14-year-old Robert*, said through tears,

“I’m happy I’ll also have the opportunity to go to school and not be on the lake and suffer from the hands of my master.”

Header image: IJM Ghana lawyer, Claudia, with one of the rescued children.

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