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15.02.2005 General News

Children in Ghana Rescued From Forced Labor

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The International Organization for Migration says it has rescued more than 100 children sold into bonded labor in fishing communities in Yeji on the northern shores of Ghana's Lake Volta. Lisa Schlein reports from IOM headquarters in Geneva that officials say the children will be taken to a newly established rehabilitation center.

When the International Organization for Migration began this rescue program two years ago, the agency registered just over 1000 school-aged children who had been sold into slavery. The release of this latest group of children from their masters means that more than half of the children now have been freed.

IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says these children are being released from a situation of never-ending misery.

"Most of the children are between six and 14 years of age,” she said. “Most of the boys actually working with the fishermen, but the girls are generally working as cooks in service. They work extremely long hours, are poorly fed, never paid and some children have actually lost their lives while diving into the waters to free fishing nets."

Ms. Pandya says the 114 children who have recently been rescued are part of a larger group that will be released soon by their former employers. She says the children had been sold by their impoverished parents to local fishermen for up to $170. She says the youngsters will spend the next few months in a rehabilitation center before being reunited with their parents or guardians. She says they will receive complete medical checkups and psychological counseling. After they are reunited with their families, she says the children will be enrolled in school or join vocational training programs.

In return for letting the children go, Ms. Pandya says the fishermen are given help in improving their fishing techniques and in starting other income-generating activities.

"So far, monitoring by IOM has actually shown that the fishermen who have been helped in this way are actually flourishing without the use of child labor,” she noted. “It is a good sign. On the other side of the coin, to help the parents stop selling the children, IOM is helping them to start or expand businesses and so earn the money that they need so they do not actually need to sell their children."

The program which is funded by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the U.S. Department of State is supposed to end in June. However, Ms. Pandya says the agency hopes to raise more money so that it can extend this operation for another year.

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