284 kids rescued from traffickers...But MP finds nothing wrong, Spread, August 3, 2010

AN operation by the Police Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and the Tema Regional Command yesterday led to the rescue of 284 children from an alleged child trafficking syndicate and the detention of 60 adults who claimed to be the children’s caretakers.

The children, aged between three and 15, were mainly from Ada, Kisseh, Battor and their environs and were being taken to Yeji in the Brong Ahafo Region to engage in fishing.

They were crammed into three DAF buses, with registration numbers WR 2175 C, GR 3096 C and GT 6121-10, without food or water.

But the police intervention brought a swift reaction from the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sege, Mr Alfred Abayateye, who rushed to the Police Headquarters to defend the move as normal practice and that it did not constitute child labour.

He explained that during the long vacations, it was the norm for parents to allow their children to go and work in fishing communities in the country and save some money to support their parents’ effort to educate them.

“I did that myself during my childhood. The only difference is that in our days we did not go to Yeji but Bortianor for the fishing expeditions and they served as a source of revenue for our families to support our education,” he added.

He, however, condemned the number of children packed into the buses, saying, “It should have been at least six buses and not three.”

The alleged caretakers of the children applauded Mr Abayateye’s remark and cheered him on.
The activities of the syndicate came to light when the rescue team, led by Superintendent Patience Quaye, intercepted the overcrowded buses at Prampram in the Greater Accra Region.

It followed a similar one at the Moree Barrier, near Cape Coast, last Friday in which three buses loaded with 118 children allegedly being trafficked to Half Assini in the Western Region were intercepted by the Central Regional Police Command.

Among the rescued children was a 13-year-old Class Six pupil who told the Daily Graphic that that was not his first trip to Yeji where he helped  his “master” to fish and mend nets.

He said proceeds from his engagement were used in paying his fees and buying books for his education.
He told the Daily Graphic that the driver of the bus had picked them from their homes at dawn with the blessings of their parents.

His tale  to the Daily Graphic was, however, cut short when he was pulled away by an elderly man and sternly warned to keep quiet.

It is estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 children in Ghana ply the waters of the Volta Lake, fishing. These children live under tough conditions and work long hours every day and are exploited by fishermen making their living along the banks of the lake.

The legal framework on child trafficking in Ghana was strengthened in December 2005 when the government passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill, with assistance from a variety of international organisations.

Section 87 of the Children’s Act of 1998 prohibits the engagement of children in exploitative labour that endangers their health, education and development.

The minimum age of admission of a child into employment is 15.

Briefing the media earlier, the Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Superintendent Kwesi Ofori, said the rescue team, upon a tip off, embarked on an operation to arrest persons who visited Ada and its catchment areas to pick children for menial jobs in Yeji.

He said when the team stopped the three buses, it realised that one of the buses had only children who were not accompanied by their parents.

He said suspecting foul play, the remaining buses in the convoy which had children and adults on board were also stopped.

He said upon interrogation, the adults on board claimed that the children were on their way to visit their parents in Yeji because they were on vacation.

 He noted that some of the adult passengers on board claimed they were travelling to Yeji, while others who claimed to be the relatives and guardians of the children could not even identify the children by their names.

He said the children, some of whom showed visible signs of sickness, were now at the Police Training School at Tesano in Accra, while efforts were being made to reunite them with their parents after investigations.

Supt Ofori said the police were now investigating the matter and all those found culpable would be dealt with to serve as a deterrent to others who would continue to abuse children for their selfish interests.

He cautioned the public against leaving their children in the hands of unknown persons, saying, “The incident is a clear case of child labour and child rights abuse and must be nipped in the bud.”

“When parents neglect their responsibilities, this creates a gap that is very difficult for society to close,” he said, and appealed to parents, chiefs and community leaders in the areas the children were picked from to help put an end to the phenomenon.

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