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29.04.2015 Opinion

Beware Of Human Traffickers  

By Daily Guide
Beware Of Human Traffickers   
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A visit to the Elmina castle some years back and personally listening to how our forefathers were sold in exchange for insignificant goods such as textiles , gunpowder and horses brought so much sorrow to final year students of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) who had gone on excursion to the place.

As we anxiously followed the tourist guide, four of us could not hold back our tears as we were told the Castle served as the depot for slaves who were captured and brought in by chiefs and kings, held captive till they finally exited through the Castle's infamous 'door of no return' to be transported and resold in other colonies. As my heart beat faster, I said to myself, never should we allow this to happen again.

Today we might not be sold to foreigners through that small outlet as was the case in the colonial days, but this time in deceitful and credulous forms. What I call modern-day slavery or trafficking in persons has become lucrative and one of the fastest growing criminal businesses in the world.It constantly changes in order to defeat efforts by law enforcement agencies to combat it.Ghana in recent times has become a source, transit and destination of human trafficking.

Perpetrators now recruit people in more sophisticated ways, either through churches, colleges, universities, electronic and print media only to gain the consent of potential victims to unknown destinations.  Recent reports indicate that millions of people are involved in this type of crime with women and children mostly affected.

In Ghana the Human Trafficking Act (Act 694) defines human trafficking as 'the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, trading or receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation WITHIN and ACCROSS national borders; through the use of threats, force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or exploitation of vulnerability.'

There is a misconception that human trafficking is foreign-born and victims of this crime are transported across the shores or borders of the country. But this is not so. The Act stresses on both within and across. Persons, especially children and young girls, often fall prey to internal trafficking. The movement of internally trafficked children is either from rural to urban areas or from one rural area to another, mostly farming to fishing and mining communities.

Trafficking of children to the urban areas has existed for decades and continues to be a worrying trend. Most of us sometimes consciously or unconsciously contribute immensely to its growth. This is because we are supplied with children as domestic workers or house helps without any efforts to find out the roots of these children.They are sometimes subjected to conditions of forced labour, domestic servitude, street hawking , baby attendants, ect.  In most instances, as vulnerable as they may be, young girls are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation against their will.

At times it is customarily acceptable for a child to be placed with relatives who are resident in the big cities to afford the child better opportunities of development. Even though this may be a laudable idea, it is often steeped in abuse; the children are reduced to modern slaves.  The conditions presented to children are quite harmful and detrimental to their health, safety and the developmental stages.

Moreover, greedy employers hurriedly take advantage of the vulnerability of children in the cities and illegally employ them since they are easy to exploit, less in cost, and easy to control.

With the issue of rural to rural form of trafficking, children  whose parents feel they are threatened by extreme economic hardship and incapable of meeting the basic needs, education and health care of their children, are tempted and quick to push their children to even strangers who may try to offer any kind of assistance. Consent of parents is won through deception and other fraudulent means. Sometimes a few Cedis are exchanged for these vulnerable children and taken far away where tracing their place of origin becomes a problem.  What word could be more appropriate for this kind of oddity than modern-day slavery?

The Human Trafficking Act, (Act 694) strongly prohibits the act of trafficking and when children are involved, the consent of the child, parents or guardian cannot be used as a defence in prosecution. Also the intermediary, the user or anyone who participates in any aspect of the trafficking is culpable.

How many of us are infringing the law by using trafficked victims as house helps? This same Act forbids a person from using a trafficked person. This enjoins us to query the source and the background of children who are brought to us as domestic workers. You commit an offence and liable on summary conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than five years if you harbour or use a trafficked person.

Trafficking in persons has no age limit and it targets people of all fields, especially those who believe their destiny to succeed only lies in the urban areas or abroad. Victims between the ages of 7 and 45 years are trafficked on daily bases both within and across our national boundaries.

Trafficking across the national borders has become quite alarming due to its global effects and risk on health, organized crime, and other wide-reaching social impact. Victims of trafficking are generally recruited throughdeception, threat, force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, the abuse of power or position of vulnerability.

An interview with three victims who had just returned from overseas showed how dangerous the situation could be. Three ladies between the ages of 21 and 24 years were workers of a popular restaurant in Ghana. They were approached by another colleague for 'a better job opportunity' in one of the Asian counties as shop attendants.  To them, since the information was coming from a trusted colleague, there was no need to cross-check it. All travelling documents were processed within a month and they left the shores of the country. According to them, their passports and other travelling documents were seized from them the moment they arrived in the destination country. The three were held hostage in a building under the guard of two strong men. To their surprise, there was no shop attendant job for them apart from choosing between commercial sex trade, strip dancing and singing at clubs and other nude-entertaining functions. They suffered serious physical abuses and starvation owing to their determination not to accept the offers presented to them. For how long were they going to be obstinate? Monies made from this sexual exploitation were collected by their traffickers because they needed to pay for their (sex traders') documentation and travelling charges. Fortunately, they had to flee when the slightest loophole presented itself and reported themselves at a police station for assistance. It was through the support and instrumentality of the police that they found themselves back in Ghana to tell their story

Very often, victims of trafficking continue with the work they have been recruited to do because any attempt to draw the attention of the authorities will cause their deportation. Even if they have a chance to report, they sometimes refuse because they have been brainwashed by the traffickers that illegal immigrants get no help.  This is false. Trafficking is a crime and irrespective of their immigration status, most countries are willing to help the victims and get them out of the situation.

Lately, there has been a strong commitment locally and internationally from various stakeholders, law enforcers, through sensitization programmes and strategic measures, to create the needed awareness to address the issue of human trafficking. The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service is no exception. 1n 2013 alone, about 75 trafficked persons were rescued and supported to trace back their families in Ghana.

As devastating as it may be, the crime keeps evolving rapidly and requires extra alertness from everyone to fight the menace. For this reason, Section 6 of the Human Trafficking Act makes it mandatory for any person with information on trafficking or victims of trafficking to inform the police. Withholding information on trafficking also amounts to an offence.

The Director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, Supt. Patience Quaye, advises people, especially young women, to be extra careful in accepting job offers which seem too good to be true. Like the story of the three ladies, this is the most common bait sex traffickers use. They usually promise their potential victims job in a foreign country with attractive rewards, lure and send them to these countries only to find out that there are no jobs waiting for them, apart from prostitution.

Another trick used to recruit people is through promise of love. Traffickers trap their potential victims to get them emotionally involved and immediately request their presence in their countries. It is always advisable to take enough time to know people who express interests in you, especially on the internet.  If someone's behaviour is suspicious and over-eager for you, extra care must be taken – articularly, requesting to fund all travelling expenses when you barely know each other. Instead, why not ask him to visit you? It may be safer in your own country since you are more familiar with your country and can easily call for help when the need arises.

Measures to curb human trafficking are ongoing both internally and internationally, yet millions of people remain trapped in severe conditions around the world. Support the cause with information and resource to mitigate, fight or eliminate human trafficking in your own small way.

For Any Information on Crime and Police Assistance call National Crimefighters Numbers 0302 773695, 0302 773906, MTN and VODAFONE Toll-free 18555 191(Vodafone/Expresso/Airtel & TiGO). 

 Email: [email protected]
 BY ASP Effia Tenge          

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