from MASAHUDU KUNATEH in Accra, Ghana
ACCRA, (CAJ News) – GHANA risks losing aid and grants totalling over $600 million (about R8.4 billion) from the United States of America (USA) for failure to combat human trafficking, most worrying, the illegal trade of children.
For the second year in a row, the US has classified Ghana as a Tier 2 Watch List country, meaning that the government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of the illegal practice and failed to provide evidence of efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in the past year.
Any country ranked on the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years must be downgraded to Tier 3 in the third year unless it shows sufficient progress to warrant a Tier 2 or Tier 1 ranking.
A Tier 3 ranking indicates a government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and is not making significant efforts to do so, according to a US Department of State report.
“As a result, the government did not increase prosecution efforts or assistance to victims. While the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the Ghana Police Service (GPS) reported 238 investigations and referred 21 individuals for prosecution for trafficking-related crimes, the government reported no convictions in 2015,” the report for 2016 stated.
If Ghana is downgraded to Tier 3 in 2017, it will become subject to restrictions on US assistance, including development aid and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact.
The United States currently provides more than $140 million per year in development aid to Ghana, while the MCC Compact is worth more than $498 million.
Other US programmes, including assistance in the areas of law enforcement, capacity building for state prosecutors, security and military assistance and increasing the capacity of the Electoral Commission, would all be subject to restrictions.
“More importantly, Ghana would have failed to protect its citizens, children and others from the menace of human trafficking,” the Ghana Minister of Interior, Ambrose Dery, said.
The failure to provide adequate and timely operating funds for law enforcement and protection agencies continued to hamper the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, Nana Kwame , a youth activist noted.
Last week, Challenging Heights, a leading anti-child trafficking nongovernmental organisation rescued 18 trafficked children from the Lake Volta. The children, aged between 5 and 17, are going through rehabilitation.
The organisation reports it has rescued over 1 500 minors in the last twelve years.
President of Challenging Heights, James Kofi Annan, said child trafficking in the fishing industry had for decades been a problem for the government.
It is estimated over 21 000 children work in Lake Volta with abuse rife.
In 2005, the Ghana passed laws outlawing human trafficking, with prison terms of at least five years promulgated.
Child trafficking is the trade of children aiming to exploit them sexually, as domestic slaves, drug traffickers or other forms of illegal labour.
In Ghana, the practice is widespread in the fishing, coastal and farming communities in the Volta, Central and Brong Ahafo regions.
In many cases, children aged between four and 16 years are sold for less than GH¢300 ($75). Parents are mostly tricked into believing the children would be well treated in the buyers’ new homes, as a form of adoption.
Most children work as helpers, living in brutal conditions where beatings are commonplace and school halted.
The founder of the Association of People for Practical Life Education (APPLE), Jack James Dawnson, said the children sometimes worked on empty stomachs.
Worse, those that work at seas drown.
He blamed parents for complicity.
“Parents, family members, community members and strangers are all implicated in the trafficking of children for forced labour,” said Dawnson.
Since the inception of the APPLE project about four years, over 2 000 trafficked children from 18 communities have been rescued and re-united with their parents.
“Although there are a lot of children out there to be rescued, we consider the prevention of trafficking and child labour more critical in the development of the child and in the elimination of worst forms of child trafficking,” said Dawnson.
– CAJ News