Boys as young as 12 are working with dangerous chemicals to extract gold dust from ore. Girls as young as 10 are prostituted in mining camps and are pushed into relationships with older men.
These deeply moving stories of children losing their childhoods and freedom to violence, hard labor, prostitution, and sexual abuse are some of the key findings of recent FTS research on child slavery in Ghana’s gold mining regions.
The investigation was part of our 18-month Child Rights in Mining Project. Free the Slaves and our on-the-ground partners in Ghana, Participatory Development Associates and Social Support Foundation, conducted qualitative research into modern forms of slavery, including child sex trafficking and the related and overlapping problem of hazardous child labor.
Researchers aimed to document the dynamics of exploitation and abuse of children in Obuasi, Ghana, where informal small-scale and artisanal gold mining occurs. Ghanaian human rights groups have been concerned for many years about the enslavement and exploitation of children linked with so-called “galamsey” mining sites, which are sites where unlicensed informal mining takes place, but very little research has been carried out in this area.
Read the research report summary here.
- Build the capacity of state institutions responsible for child protection.
- Provide adequate resources to state institutions, such as the Department of Social Welfare.
- Enable community groups within the mining areas to develop community action plans through which local residents identify steps that can be taken to address sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
- Form active and well-trained child protection groups in each community to help identify local risks to children and act to protect them.
- Clarify procedures for reporting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Ensure the effective enforcement of criminal laws against child slavery, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, worst forms of child labor and other forms of child exploitation.
- Disseminate regular messages to local residents about children’s rights, child slavery and sex trafficking, hazardous child labor, child labor slavery and sexual violence.
These recommendations are intended to guide local facilitators as they assist community groups in demanding adequate child protection responses from government. They provide a reference point for community advocacy with local officials to demand that they meet their obligations to curtail sex trafficking, child labor slavery, hazardous child labor and other forms of child exploitation in Ghana’s informal mining communities.
As a result of the research, FTS and its partners produced a series of three booklets to educate community members. The stories in these booklets focus on three themes that emerged from the research: the importance of good parenting, the dangers of child labor, and the existence and root causes of sexual violence against children.
The booklets have been used with more than 350 participants in 25 learning groups led by trained community facilitators. The groups met weekly or bi-weekly to discuss the illustrated stories and how to take up ways to reduce sexual violence and child labor and protect children.
An evaluation of the pilot project was recently concluded. It showed profound results in successfully shifting community attitudes about the rights and protection of children, resulting in the removal of children from situations of slavery and hazardous labor. A detailed report of the pilot project will be released soon.
Read more about FTS work in Ghana here.
As the school year begins, it’s important to recognize that teaching is a profession that often requires bravery. But one teacher in India, Daulati Kumari, brings a special kind of bravery to her classroom.
Daulati escaped slavery only a few years ago, and now she teaches children in a Free the Slaves program in communities where slavery is rampant.
Daulati was kidnapped by a man who had offered to take her to a doctor. Instead, she was sold into a forced marriage and enslaved for five months. Her parents alerted volunteers affiliated with MSEMVS, a frontline organization that receives funding and training from Free the Slaves. They went to court to force local police to help.
After Daulati was free, she enrolled at the Free the Slaves Punarnawa Ashram, where survivors recover and prepare to return to normal life. She studied hard at the ashram’s school, and when she was ready, she decided to join MSEMVS as a teacher.
“I never imagined that I would teach children,” Daulati says. “I learned a lot in the ashram.”
She’s seen as a local hero at small schools in isolated communities where violent thugs enslave families and traffic children.
“They are intelligent kids,” she says, but formal education “is difficult because they have never been to school. I sit with each child, and hold their hand.”
Daulati knows the risks she is taking. But she also knows that without education, children are vulnerable to slavery. She is an emerging leader in a growing movement to create a generation that will live in freedom.
That is what sets Free the Slaves apart: we are building a movement of survivors, of people around the world who are standing up to slaveholders. Last year alone, we helped free more than 1,750 slaves and educated more than 14,000 community members how to resist slavery.
Daulati is doing her part. Will you do yours?
Please consider making or renewing your donation to Free the Slaves today. Our program is working, but without support from you, slaves wait. End the wait. Make a gift. Help us build a future without slavery.
Today marks the 12th annual World Day Against Child Labor, started by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to highlight the plight of hundreds of millions of children engaged in work that deprives them of education, health, and basic rights. Many of these children are enslaved.
This year, the ILO focuses on ensuring that children are not exposed to abuse and exploitation in domestic work. The organization releases a report today, which estimates more than 10 million children perform domestic work. The report outlines the types of violence and abuse they face.
FTS is one of many organizations working to put an end to child slavery in domestic work.
Our program in Haiti targets a system known as restavek, which affects about 10 percent of all Haitian children. Thousands of children from rural communities are sold to serve as domestic workers in urban areas, waking before dawn to cook, clean and run errands that last late into the night. Most never go to school and many are abused physically and sexually.
Through our local partner, Fondasyon Limye Lavi, FTS has trained more than 600 community members in child rights and reproductive health through an in depth, community-based process.
This has inspired parents to retrieve 20 children from restavek in the past year. Villagers are forming community child protection committees that serve as watchdog groups to look out for restavek traffickers. Our Haiti program also helps community organizers that support needy families at risk of sending their children into restavek.
The protection of children is a major component of all FTS country programs worldwide.
On this World Day Against Child Labor, FTS is pleased to announce that we have recently joined the U.S.-based Child Labor Coalition, which consists of leading human rights organizations working to combat exploitative child labor domestically and globally.
Editor’s Note: Early this month, FTS frontline partner group Challenging Heights conducted one of their largest rescue missions ever, targeting 20 villages along 125 miles of shoreline on Lake Volta, looking for Ghanaian children reported to be enslaved on fishing boats. FTS Ghana Director Joha Braimah and Program Manager Christy Gillmore were with the team as the rescues began. We asked them to share their experience.
JOHA: The path to freedom can be as unnerving as the road to slavery. For many Ghanaian children, enslavement means dangerous work aboard small fishing craft on the world’s largest reservoir, Lake Volta. Ironically, when the hydroelectric dam was completed in 1965 to form the lake, it was hailed as a pillar of progress. It is clear that the architects of the project did not anticipate the horrendous economic activity the lake would also bring. The use of trafficked children for fishing on the lake is rampant. Our mission was simple: rescue. But the outcome was far from certain. Rescues are highly unpredictable. Sometimes it can be negotiated calmly, and other times things just don’t go according to plan.
CHRISTY: The weeklong mission was designed to retrieve children identified by their families as trafficking victims. The families live in communities near Accra where FTS frontline partner group Challenging Heights is based. Many of the children had been sent by parents to work on the lake temporarily in exchange for loans. The parents say their loans had been repaid but their children had not been returned.
My nerves were on edge, as I didn’t know what to expect. As the Challenging Heights rescue team entered the fishing zone, we saw boat after boat with small children hard at work, hauling and untangling fishing nets. I tried counting them, but they became too numerous.
JOHA: Most of the children we saw were in boats by themselves, some had adults in the boats with them. These children do not attend school, and many have no clothes to wear. They work from dawn to dusk before returning to shore for a meal. Even though their boats will be loaded with fish, their meals contain little or no fish. All around us were tree stumps in the water. These stumps have been one of the major causes of boat accidents on the lake, and one of the major risks for child slaves. When nets get tangled underwater in these trees, trafficked children are ordered to dive below to clear them. Many children drown.
CHRISTY: There were six experts on this Challenging Heights rescue team. On Day One, the goal was to liberate children from two villages. When we arrived in the first community, we sat with the alleged slaveholders, a husband and wife. The Challenging Heights team explained to them that the mother of a boy and girl they were keeping had asked for her children to be brought home, that she had repaid her small loan. The team told the slaveholders what they were doing was illegal, and the children needed to be brought home and given good care. The husband conceded, but the wife became angry; she yelled that the children had not yet worked off the money she had loaned to their mother long ago. I nervously watched as she used harsh words, hoping her anger would not turn to violence. Finally, after explaining that if she did not give up the children, Challenging Heights would return with police, the wife grudgingly agreed.
While the discussion went on, I watched the frightened, enslaved girl in the background, washing dishes. I couldn’t imagine what she was feeling in that moment: fear, anxiety, confusion, resentment? If you’ve been sold to strangers by your own family to work night and day with little food and frequent abuse, what would you think of new strangers coming to take you to yet another place? Who do you trust?
Luckily, the Challenging Heights team understood how to handle the situation. One team member gently approached the girl, speaking quietly with an unthreatening demeanor, and explained where the team would be taking her. After a few minutes of uncertainty, the girl packed a bag with her few belongings and followed the rescue team to the boat. Her brother was working on the lake, so the rescue team traveled to meet him. His initial fear and confusion subsided when he saw his sister already on board.
JOHA: In the second village we encountered huge resistance from the traffickers. This created a bit of a spectacle. The entire community gathered around. Some were in favor of releasing the enslaved children; others were not. We were nearly to the shoreline with one child, but could not take him with us as tempers rose, for fear of what might happen to other children in the village that we had come to release but could not find. We had to leave for our own safety, but with a promise of coming back with police the next day. The threat was effective. The two children on our list of children to rescue, plus another child in that village, were quietly sent back to their parents overnight. The slaveholders must have received a tip-off that we actually did go to see the police.
We were with the rescue team for just one day, but their work went on for an entire week – visiting village after village along the shore of Lake Volta, freeing 16 children in all. A few lucky ones may have been rescued. But there are still a lot more. Because of the clandestine nature of trafficking, accurate numbers of trafficked children on the lake are not available. Challenging Heights estimates that 24,000 children may be enslaved throughout Ghana, with the majority of them being on Lake Volta.
CHRISTY: We headed back to a Challenging Heights rescue shelter with the two children the team had liberated on Day One. These slavery survivors stayed in the most comfortable setting they had known in years, with ample food and clean water and gentle care. I watched the boy collapse on a foam mattress, exhausted but relieved. Along the way back, a little more light gleamed in their eyes. The girl started to sing along as songs played on the radio, and the boy cracked a tiny smile when I made silly faces. All 16 child slavery survivors are now at the shelter, where they are regaining their strength, playing, and learning to smile again.
Its arrival causes quite a stir.
It’s just a simple van.
But when it stops in remote hamlets, singers pop out, signs go up, and villagers learn that their lives can be better.
It’s called the “Anti-Slavery Chariot.”
It tours communities where slavery is rampant.
And it’s spreading the word that enslavement is illegal and people can escape it.
Organized by the FTS frontline partner organization MSEMVS, the chariot has been a runaway success.
It has visited 49 villages to date, attracting more than 25,000 people to educational street theater performances and informational presentations.
The project has generated more than 500 follow-up phone calls by villagers seeking information and help.
More than 40 trafficking cases have been uncovered, with rescues now being planned.
One case has already led to freedom for 24 children enslaved in a biscuit-making factory. They were made to work night shifts to reduce the risk of being discovered.
They had been in slavery for eight months. Today they are free.
The chariot project began because many of the new leaders emerging in villages that have successfully battled slavery decided that they want to help other communities. Some of these leaders had personal experiences of slavery within their own families.
They asked MSEMVS to help them spread awareness in an organized way.
The chariot brings slavery into public view. The information it shares helps families understand what trafficking and slavery are, and how they can get help for victims.
As one participant explained: “We never knew about human trafficking and its forms, but this chariot helped us know that slavery is a crime.”
The chariot tour is just getting started. The organizers plan to reach 100,000 more people in heavy trafficking areas of northern India.
Editor’s note: learn more about our innovative projects in India on the FTS website.