Ghana’s government says it is ready to start enforcing a two-year-old law to prosecute parents who sell their children to traffickers.
“We have not enforced the law because we first wanted to create enough awareness because of the cultural setting in which we find ourselves,” Ghana’s Minister for Women and Children Affairs Hajia Alima Mahama told IRIN.
“Now we are going to start prosecuting. The grace period is over.” In Ghana, as in many parts of Africa, the notion that a child belongs to the community makes it acceptable for parents to give a child away to assist a neighbour or relative.
But as Ghanaians have got poorer that custom has been perverted. Sometimes, parents sell their children to strangers, who treat them as commodities to be hired out or sold for work. The exact number of children currently in the hands of traffickers is not known, but Eric Peasah, trafficking expert at the International Organisation for Migration in Ghana, estimated that it is likely to run at least into the hundreds. Ghana’s child trafficking law was passed in 2005 but has not been strictly enforced.
It makes it illegal to sell a child for whatever purpose, but also criminalises the act of encouraging parents to give up their children for money. Ten years’ jail time is the maximum sentence. For children already sold off to traffickers, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) — in collaboration with the government and local NGOs — retrieves children, reunites them with their families, and provides micro-credit loans.
Government and IOM programs have received mixed reviews among the Ghanaians the program is supposed to be targeting. Nana Korsah VII, chief of Ekumpoano village 85 km west of the capital, Accra, which has about 2,000 inhabitants, agreed giving parents good jobs would go a long way to stamp out child trafficking. “I can’t give them work to do and I feel guilty stopping them from sending their children to work for others so they can make some additional money,” he said. But for Korsah, that responsibility rests first with Ghana’s elected officials, not the IOM.
“The government must first take care of the poverty situation then my education campaign to get my people to stop the trafficking will be effective,” he said. Kojo Asante, a primary school teacher in Accra takes a harder line approach, suggesting a few arrests would send a strong message. “We should forget about campaigns through radio and vans [with loudspeakers],” Asante said. “We should get one mother and prosecute her, and make sure the case is highlighted. Then let’s see whether it won’t change.”