[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Anglican Diocese of Accra, in the Province of West Africa, has won the backing of the US government for its ambitious programme to tackle modern-day slavery and child trafficking. The US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert Jackson, was in Accra last week for the launch of a five-year project that will culminate in the creation of “Hope Community” – a place where rescued children can “become what they were ordained by God to be.”
Speaking at the launch, Ambassador Jackson acknowledged the role that religious leaders had played in speaking out against “the abhorrent practice of slavery” in the US in the 19th century. “Men and women of faith indicated that their religious beliefs demanded a higher standard of morality,” he said. “By taking a stand against an accepted cultural practice of the time, these religious leaders were part of the successful process that resulted in the abolition of slavery.”
He cited other examples of "faith leaders standing against injustice and providing hope", including the role played by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in campaigning against Apartheid in South Africa, and the Albanian Muslims who protected Jewish neighbours during World War II because “their faith demanded it.”
“And now I see that church leaders here in Ghana can play a critical role in educating communities about the risk children face in modern day slavery,” he said. “The child labour practices we see now are not the practices that were common in decades past.
“We are not speaking about children helping out with chores around the house on the weekends or learning about the family trade in the afternoons after school. We are talking about the kayayei girls [female porter] in cities across the country, spending long days carrying heavy loads through the markets.
Women carrying goods at a market in the Volta region of Ghana. Young women are forced to act as kayayei girls – female porters – in cities across the country, spending long days carrying heavy loads through the markets.
Photo: Nora Morgan / Flickr
“We are talking about the boys who were up at 4 am this morning, being forced to risk their lives diving into cold water to untangle fishing nets. We are talking about the children spending their days serving in the houses of wealthier families, while the sons and daughters of that household attend school. This is not building the character and skills of Ghana’s children. It is profiteering off their exploitation.”
The ambassador described the Accra diocesan project as being “critical to dispelling misconceptions of forced child labour”
He added: “I applaud church leaders’ efforts to care for child trafficking victims. Here in Ghana and around the world, you regularly see religious communities at the front lines of victim protection efforts. They are operating the shelters that keep victims safe. They are providing the physical and psychological care needed to heal victims’ trauma. And they are working to reintegrate survivors back into society. . .
“On an issue as vexing and persistent as human trafficking, every person has a role to play. Everyone supporting this campaign will be carrying forward a powerful message of hope to the many children suffering in trafficking situations today.
“I applaud your commitment to this noble cause, and I know that, partnering together, we will make real progress and touch real lives.”
Also speaking at the launch, the Bishop of Accra, Daniel Torto, explained why the project was so important: “As a country, we cannot ignore or downplay the existence and pernicious impact of child trafficking on our children who are the future leaders of our nation.
“Destroying their future now through these evil practices is a sure way of obliterating a bright future for this country. It actually undermines our respect for human rights and human dignity as a country. It is the nation’s human capital.”
The Bishop of Accra, Daniel Torto, and the US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert Jackson, at the launch of the Diocese of Accra’s anti-child labour and trafficking project.
Photo: Diocese of Accra
Official estimates suggest that some 1.2 million five-to-17-year-old children in Ghana are engaged in child labour, almost 22 per cent of the total population of that age group; and more than 1.2 million (just over 14 per cent) are engaged in what is described as “hazardous child labour.”
The figures include some 49,000 children working in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. Other statistics estimate that more than 190,000 Ghanaians are living in conditions of “modern slavery”.
To tackle the problem, the Diocese of Accra has adopted a four-pronged strategy to identify and tackle the root causes of child trafficking in Ghana: protection, education, livelihood and advocacy.
“The child protection aspect will entail a preventive strategy of raising awareness for behavioural change, a curative strategy of rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and monitoring of victims of child trafficking in Ghana,” Bishop Torto said. “The education aspect involves providing affordable education for children from deprived families and general educational support to children.
“Furthermore, the livelihood aspect will focus on sustainable economic empowerment for deprived families as a way of reducing poverty levels, which has been identified as the main underlying factor for child trafficking in Ghana. And finally, the advocacy aspect will focus on influencing national and international policies, laws and programmes that protect children and also push for law enforcement.”
The Bishop thanked the US ambassador for the “bold step” he took in supporting the initiative, as well as the Ghanaian state institutions “which have identified with this Campaign and will be supporting us in this endeavour.”
And he finished his speech with a pledge: “On behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Accra and on my own behalf as the diocesan bishop, we pledge that with the support of our partners, the US Embassy in Accra, we will endeavour, within five years, to build a new community in one of our rural communities to be called Hope Community, where the children rescued will be resettled.
“There they can have a new home, get education and be assisted to develop their God-given talents so as to become what they were ordained by God to be.”