I am very grateful to the International Justice Mission for the opportunity to be part of this very important event which concerns the future of this country. It is a joy to see various representatives of key state and non-state institutions gathered here for this event. It is also a delight to see our religious leaders and the members of the diplomatic community with us as well. I trust this speaks volumes to how we can collectively end this problem.
Mr. Chairman, the issue of child trafficking and forced labour is a major problem in Ghana with a prolonged history. The lives and future of many children have been cut short because of this injustice meted out to them. The problem is especially horrifying on the Volta Lake where children are sold out to boat masters for as little as GHS 200 to assist with fishing. Some of the children are as young as four years old. As has been pointed out by the study, most of these children are denied their basic human rights such as the right to education, medical care, adequate nutrition, and freedom from servitude. They also work long hours under very hazardous conditions.
I am particularly sad and worried that some of our children are going through this in our dear country, 60 years after independence. Children, undoubtedly represent the future aspirations of this country. This, therefore, puts the onus on us to ensure that we protect, support, value, and nurture them to become responsible citizens who will help better this country in the near future.
Mr. Chairman, it is astonishing, that in face of the existing comprehensive legal framework, the menace of child trafficking and forced labour continue to haunt our dear nation. The 1992 Constitution of Ghana, in Article 12 provides for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Clause 2 of Article 12 stipulates that, every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender shall be entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms. Article 16 of our Constitution in clause 1, provides that no person shall be held in slavery or servitude. Clause 2 of article 16 further posits that no person shall be required to perform forced labour. In respect of enactments of parliament, the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) and the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), are very good laws that we have passed to address the problem of child trafficking and forced labour.
I am of a strong conviction, that we must fully enforce these laws and prosecute perpetrators of child trafficking and forced labour. It is not enough to just sensitize people about the issue, when we do not prosecute perpetrators of this act. When people are prosecuted, it will serve as a deterrent to others. We must also provide adequate protection for victims of child trafficking and forced labour, by putting in place social interventions that will help these victims put their lives back on track.
Mr. Chairman, it is time to prioritise this issue and end it. The First Lady is committed to working closely with the relevant agencies to bring an end to child trafficking and forced labour, because every Ghanaian child matters! It is therefore unacceptable for this injustice to continue. The First Lady needs all of us to join her in this fight. As a people, we must work together to end this injustice against our children. Everyone has a role to play in this.
The Government, religious groups, traditional leaders, corporate bodies, educational institutions, civil society organizations, security agencies and state institutions have a critical role to play in ending this. Specifically, I urge the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s Office, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to continue to work closely with the International Justice Mission and other interest groups on this. I commend the leadership of the International Justice Mission for championing this issue, and it is my fervent hope that child trafficking and forced labour on the lake will be a thing of the past in a few years to come. We must make it possible!
On this note, and on behalf of the First Lady, I am pleased to declare the Baseline Study on Child Trafficking and Forced Labour on Volta Lake by the International Justice Mission duly launched.
May God continue to bless our beloved country, Ghana.