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Africa

Trafficked boys in Ghana are forced into early marriage

Organizations fighting human trafficking in Ghana are raising the alarm over the number of children being trafficked within the country. Over 10,000 children are estimated to be working under dangerous conditions.

It's a busy day for fishermen on the coastal area of Oblojo, a fishing community in Ghana. The fishermen are busy on their canoes pulling their nets out of the sea. Strikingly, many of them are young boys.

19-year-old Kofie Allotey started fishing at the age of 12. He told DW he was trafficked from the southern part of Greater Accra to this coastal town with the consent of his parents. He says he's been fishing for seven years.

"We catch fish as part of our work. I do have a master," Allotey said. He initially wanted to go to school, but his father was against the idea.

Next to Allotey, Paa Solo, 16, recounts vividly the kind of work they do on the sea. "We wake up at 1 a.m. and return to the house at six," Solo said. It's dangerous work, he added. "So many people used to die, when they told a person to go and remove the net. [But] maybe that place is [too] deep, so the person will not reach [the net]."

Paa Solo's friend, Nii Kwei, who is only 13 years old, was also trafficked by his master at the age of 10. "We are able to sail and sometimes fall into the sea. Those of us able to swim are usually safe, but those who are unable to swim perish." Kwei said with a good catch, they could earn around $50 (43 euros) a week.

Boys married off by masters

According to Challenging Heights, a Ghanaian anti-child trafficking organization, a new trend is emerging where some of these young boys are being forced by their masters to marry. James Kofi Annan, who heads the group, told DW that some people living in the coastal areas are selling their children for as little as $13.

"The boys usually go to work as child fishermen and they virtually, invariably end up being married off at a very tender age," Kofi Annan said. He is very concerned with what is happening to the boys. "It deprives the children of their education, their future and livelihood and so forth," he added.

Ghanaian boys and fishermen returning on shore with their boats.

The Ghanaian boys forced into work are missing out on education

"Some of the boys we play with here, they are sometimes married off," Nii Kwei said. "Their masters pay them to get them to agree to the marriage," Kwei said.

It is a crime for parents to force their children into labor, traffic them or force them into early marriages. These offences infringe upon the rights of children and offenders could face between five to ten years imprisonment.

Fighting child labor and forced marriages

Comfort Kobson, a resident of Oblojo's coastal fishing community, said that based on the harrowing stories from some of the children that have been rescued, parents are beginning to realize the need to stop the practices.

"Whenever they hear sad news, the parents over here, they cry," Kobson said. He said when the NGOs came, they invited the parents and spoke to them. "They [parents] themselves give money [to the NGOs] to go and bring back their children."

Ghanaian anti-trafficking activist Kofi Anan

Kofi Annan, an anti-trafficking activist, says parents who sell their children should be punished

The NGO Challenging Heights has launched a project to arrest parents who are sending their children to be married off. It says over 10,000 children work on the lake - and many of those are victims of child trafficking. Kofi Annan says the anti-human trafficking unit of the police service still has a lot to do.

"I feel very disappointed that the police is not being resourced enough to do its work effectively, because this definitely hinders the work of the police," Kofi Annan said. "Parents need to be advised that if you are caught and arrested selling your child you can go to jail for at least five years."

Ghana's children and social protection ministry has already announced plans to collaborate with all stakeholders in order to clamp down on the practice. It is urging Ghanaians to report to the police, parents who are still sending their children in to modern day slavery.

Isaac Kaledzi contributed to this article.

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