Child Labour Update
The past few months have been extremely busy for the Child Labour Project at Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF). During some of our child labour interviews, we began to encounter children who were not only working in dangerous situations, but have been trafficked to other communities with fishermen. Many of them had been away from their families for a number of years and were typically working to pay off family debt or small loans which the family received from the fishermen. The amount of children who were familiar with this situation or had experienced it themselves was alarming. After much discussion, we decided to expand the scope of the Child Labour Project to include trafficking as well. The updated project name is the CHF Child Labour & Trafficking Project.
We extended the labour project to include trafficking while conducting extensive research in Senya Bereku, a fishing community not far from Kasoa. This community has an especially bad reputation for child labour which has been disguising the high frequency of children trafficked to locations outside the community; predominantly to a village on Lake Volta called Yeji. Children from Senya Bereku are recruited from homes with cash advancements anywhere from 50 - 400 Ghana Cedi's ($25 - $200 USD) given to the parents or other family members. Money is usually promised to the family on the child's return. Sometimes there is a “contract” that arranges how long the child will be trafficked for and how they will be supported while working. More frequently, the duration of the child's absence is undetermined, making it possible for them to be gone for sometimes up to ten years. There have been cases where the children are never seen nor heard from again.
The new focus on trafficking within the Child Labour & Trafficking Project was inspired after an interview in Senya Bereku with a boy named Daniel Otoo. When he was six years old his parents decided to ‘rent’ him into bonded labour for a small advance. Daniel was under the belief that he was just travelling with his uncle, not realising that for the next ten years he would be forced to work for him, hundreds of miles away from his family. Upon arrival in Yeji, he had dangerous and heavy physical labour thrust upon him. He would pull in the boats, untangle and mend the nets, go out onto the lake to fish, and was forced to dive deep underwater to untangle the nets as they were often caught on the numerous tree stumps that are scattered throughout Lake Volta. He recounted stories of the children he worked with who had drowned as they were forced to dive to untangle the nets. Despite the challenging and tiresome work, he was only provided with two small meals a day. Now 16 and grown up, Daniel has recently returned to Senya Bereku with no formal education and a bleak outlook for the future. His family only received 500 Ghana Cedis for his countless hours of manual labour in the past ten years. We began talking with him about his experience there, only to realize the problem was much bigger than we could have ever anticipated. Not only was Daniel illiterate, but he has severe psychological and emotional problems stemming from his time in bonded labour. It was apparent that Daniel was suffering from the trauma of his experiences in life. Worst of all, Daniel never smiled. CHF immediately chose to sponsor Daniel and get him in to school. Today, Daniel is progressing well and his teacher says that he is very motivated to improve his English skills so he can learn other subjects.
Our research on the trafficking issue in Senya Bereku has continued and we are identifying a growing number of children who have faced a situation similar to Daniels. We hope to sponsor as many children as we can and eventually start rescuing children from Yeji before it’s too late. Unfortunately, we are unable to currently sponsor any more children because of CHF’s limited resources. We hope to locate additional funding to sponsor many more trafficked children with these heart wrenching stories in Senya Bereku, Fetteh, and Nyanyano.
Where is the Child Labour & Trafficking Project heading?
Microfinance: The Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF) Child Labour & Trafficking team has been conducting extensive research in the fishing community of Senya Beraku. We have identified many trafficked children who are candidates for sponsorship and are currently fundraising to get these kids in school. During our research we have realized that sponsoring a child year-after-year is not enough to lift them from poverty and is unsustainable for CHF. That is why we are exploring how to properly set up a microfinance division of CHF to assist the needs of the parents of the trafficked children. This will allow us to evaluate if the parents could benefit from a microloan and sponsor their child for one year while they generate enough income to continue their child’s education. Right now we are in an exploratory phase and hope to use the expertise of our advisors and other organizations to assist us in implementing this vital piece in our organization.
Rehabilitation: Another missing piece of the Child Labour & Trafficking project is a child rehabilitation program and centre. This will allow us to have a more comprehensive program for the children and permit us to actually rescue children from the hands of fishermen in Yeji. We have spoken with the Chief Advisor of Senya Beraku about these desires and how big the problem is in his community. He was very responsive during our conversation and even said he would like CHF to be a permanent fixture in Senya Beraku. We do not have the resources to make this happen right now but are exploring fundraising options and partnerships with other organizations. At the least, we would like to provide some sort of mental health service to trafficked children while we sponsor them in school.
Thank you very much for making time to read this update. We grately appreciate all your support towards this project.
Cheerful Hearts Foundation team
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