On January 24, the IJM Ghana team and local authorities rescued 24 boys who had been forced to work in the fishing industry on Lake Volta.
This rescue was the culmination of months of work between the IJM team and Ghanaian police to identify suspected traffickers on the lake and develop a plan for rescuing the children they were abusing.
Before dawn, the boys who would ultimately be rescued—the youngest only seven—were already out on the lake, working in the dark to earn a profit for their masters.
At the same time, IJM staff were busy loading boats with life jackets, first aid kits and new clothes for the children, who would be rescued in tattered, dirty clothing.
In the early light, eight boats carrying police, social workers from the department of social welfare, EMT professionals and IJM staff set out on Lake Volta to rescue children and arrest their abusers.
The police boats pulled up alongside fishing boats, arrested suspects and brought the children to safety. Once arriving on the designated aftercare boat, social workers cared for them by treating their injuries, feeding them and giving them new clothes to wear.
“What really struck me was how small and tiny they were, how young,” the IJM Director of Aftercare Anita Budu said, recalling what it was like to receive the children on her boat. “And these children don’t know any other option. That is what IJM Ghana is here for – to give them a different future, a different story.”
Safe at Last
Of the 24 boys who were rescued from the lake that day, three were sick with malaria, and one had been forced to continue working despite having a severely broken wrist. They were promptly taken to the hospital to receive immediate treatment and have since been released. All of the boys are now at an aftercare shelter, where their needs will be assessed and they will get the care they deserve.
So far, their new story is off to a good start. The children have gone from waking hours before dawn and going to sleep long after dark, to getting a full night’s sleep. From straining to lift heavy loads of fish or diving into the depths to untangle nets, to playing soccer and going to school. From knowing only harsh and abusive treatment at the hands of adults, to being surrounded by adults who will protect them and help them to heal.
These are only the first steps of a long journey, and IJM is committed to working with our partners in Ghana to restore children trafficked into the fishing industry to freedom.
Lake Volta, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, stretches out smooth and peaceful. The beauty of the water surrounded by verdant green hills can be difficult to reconcile with the suffering seen in the lives of boys who have been forced to leave their childhoods for long days of hard labor on fishing boats.
More than half of the thousands of children working on Lake Volta are believed to be trafficked. The majority are 10 years old or younger. Some of them can barely swim. Children injured while doing this dangerous work often go untreated. They can expect no compassion from their owners. In some cases, their owners maintain their control through violent beatings and withholding food.
IJM has been in Ghana since 2014, supporting Ghanaian authorities in their efforts to put an end to this oppression.