Child Trafficking and Exploitation on Lake Volta
The prevalence, danger and severity of child trafficking and exploitative child labor in Lake Volta’s fishing industry is well established, as documented by the Ghanaian authorities, the United Nations, academic studies and the media. Trafficked children are forced to work long hours on the lake, often at night, diving into the water to untangle fishing nets. They are controlled through physical abuse, threats and withholding of food. Their work is dangerous; children are at risk of injury or even death. Survivors of trafficking have spoken out about the abuse they experienced and Ghanaian authorities have committed themselves to taking action.
“The work children are engaged in on the lake is not for children… The first time I had to dive to untangle the net, I wasn't afraid, but as time went by, I got scared because I had seen other children die as a result of that.”
— Robert*, survivor of child trafficking at age 8
The Magnitude of the Problem on Lake Volta
The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons offices produces an annual report on global responses to trafficking. The 2023 report for Ghana describes the nature of trafficking on Lake Volta: “Traffickers exploit children as young as four in forced labor in Lake Volta’s fishing industry and use violence and limited access to food to control victims. Traffickers force boys to work in hazardous conditions, including deep diving, and girls perform work onshore, such as preparing the fish for markets. Women and girls working in the fishing sector are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, including sex trafficking.” United States Trafficking in Persons Report 2023
What 20 Years of Data Tells Us
In research commissioned by IJM in 2022, respected researchers of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the University of San Diego and Kantar Ghana found that 38% of children in communities around Lake Volta are suspected to be trafficked, with an additional 45% suspected to be engaged in exploitative child labor conditions.
In a 2016 study by Free the Slaves, child trafficking and exploitation was identified in 20 out of 20 communities in the Volta and Central Regions. 35% of households had experienced trafficking or exploitation.
A 2015 qualitative study by the University of Ghana identified multiple forms of child endangerment, including “starvation, sleep denial, non-provision of clothes and health care, and denial of access to education.”
Working with Partners
IJM Ghana’s team is led and staffed by Ghanaian nationals who support the authorities to bring trafficked children to safety, help restore survivors’ physical and mental well-being and stop those responsible for illegally exploiting children.
We work hand-in-hand with survivors and survivor-led advocacy groups in Ghana, demanding an end to child trafficking. We also provide training for partners on incorporating trauma-informed practices within the justice system in response to trafficking.
Trauma-informed Support and Training
IJM’s work alongside government partners in Ghana has helped police and prosecutors achieve significantly higher conviction rates, with hundreds of children brought to safety following 76 operations since IJM began partnering with the government in 2015.
The Power of Partnership
Our Collective Responsibility
IJM’s role in Ghana is to support government partners to achieve more successful investigations and prosecutions of child trafficking cases, following guidelines for trauma-informed care of victims. All decisions on when to bring children to safety, as well as arrests and prosecutions are made by the Ghanaian authorities. IJM supports the Department of Social Welfare with assessing and providing for survivors’ physical and mental well-being. Over 90% of the children in cases IJM has supported have been safely reunited with family under the supervision and guidance of the Department of Social Welfare.
The commitment and dedication of government officials in the police, judiciary and social welfare departments will ultimately be the force for good that ends child trafficking on Lake Volta.
Additionally, IJM is a member of CNACT, the Coalition of NGOs Against Child Trafficking in Ghana, a consortium of more than 20 organizations united in the cause of ending child trafficking.
Survivors Call for an End to Trafficking
The Ghana Survivor Network forms part of the larger Global Survivor Network, an international group of survivors leading a movement to protect communities from violence. The survivor network in Ghana now includes more than 50 members.
One of the chapters launched last year in Anyamam, christened by the survivor leaders as “Hope in Freedom”. The local chapter is based in an area that is a major source of child trafficking, but the members are poised to change the narrative of their community. “For so long, we suffered in silence, but we survived,” said group coordinator, Mr. Dortumor Wisdom. “When we were rescued, our hopes to freely live and pursue our goals were restored. We, therefore, have a heavy weight to ensure no child goes through what we have.”
The launch was a collaborative effort of the Ada West District Assembly, the Ada West Department of Social Welfare (DSW), the Anyamam Local Council of Churches, the Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC) and IJM.
Read what these members of the Ghana Survivor Network shared about their experience:
“I don’t want to leave alone,” Godwin remembered telling the police and IJM. “There are other people there that are even suffering more than I am doing, so if good they can also rescue them too.” Godwin had been tricked and trafficked into forced labor in fishing on Lake Volta at age 17. After two years, he made a desperate phone call to his aunt, who alerted the police. When police and IJM arrived to bring Godwin to safety; he insisted they return to find the other children on the island who were also trafficked. Over the course of multiple police operations, with help from Godwin, 29 children and adult victims of trafficking were brought to safety.
“It happened that one day we went to fish on the Lake, and there was a strong wind blowing...I ended up falling into the Lake...The wind was blowing seriously and I could feel that I was going down into the water. I asked myself is this how my life is going to end?” Courage Hope did not die that day, helped to safety by another boy forced to fish alongside him. When the IJM team and police came to find Courage Hope, he was surprised to hear them calling his name. Godwin had told police about his friend, Courage Hope, and returned with the police to find him. “The moment the Police held my hand and took me inside the boat we travelled in, I saw [Godwin]...And that calmed me down.” Courage Hope is now a leader in the Global Survivor Network, with a message to those who are still trapped on the lake: “They should not be discouraged. When the right time comes, they will also be rescued just as I was rescued.”
Relevant News Articles
Commissioning of the Boat Patrol on Lake Volta
Source: Ghana News Agency
The Ghana Police Service, through its Marine Police Unit, in collaboration with the International Justice Mission (IJM), has
IJM + United Way Partnership to Empower Survivors
Source: Ghana News Agency
More than 40 human trafficked survivors will soon receive education and economic empowerment to facilitate