21 Children rescued from South Africa

BY: Salomey Appiah
Ms Victoria Natsu (right), the Acting Head of the Human Trafficking Secretariat, addressing a press conference in Accra.

Twenty-one children aged between nine and 16 who are suspected to have been trafficked from Ghana to South Africa have been repatriated.

The children, mainly from communities in the Sefwi area in the Western Region, were trafficked to South Africa under the pretext of training them to be sent to European countries and America to play football.

The minors, who are all males, were abandoned by their trafficker whose name has been withheld due to ongoing police investigations.

At a press conference to brief the media on the issue in Accra Wednesday, the acting Executive Secretary of the Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MOGCSP), Mrs Victoria Natsu, said the children arrived in Ghana on December 15, 2015.

The recruitment

Although the specific towns where the children hail from were not mentioned, she explained that the trafficker was able to convince and deceive their parents, guardians and some chiefs at a durbar in one of the communities where he (trafficker) was given a parcel of land to set up a football academy.

“The parents were convinced and deceived to pay huge sums of money to the trafficker to send the children to South Africa. Some of the parents even sold their lands and cocoa farms to fund their children’s travel arrangements,” she said.

She stated that the trafficker also used FM stations in the communities to advertise the recruitment exercise.

After allowing the children to play a few trial matches, Mrs Natsu said, the trafficker returned to Ghana under the pretext of recruiting more children but was never seen again.

The authorities in South Africa got to know about the children after the expiry of their visas, she said, adding, “The South African Department of Social Development rescued the children and sent them to a shelter in Pretoria.”

She said the issue came to the attention of the ministry when Ghana’s High Commission in Pretoria requested the MOGCSP and National Security to assist it to handle a suspected trafficking scheme involving the 21 minors on July 30, 2015.

The rescue

With support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, the MOGCSP and other key stakeholders, the children were brought back to Ghana.

Since their arrival, Mrs Natsu said, the children had been kept in a shelter for counselling to help them recover from the trauma and would be taken back to their families at the appropriate time.

She added that district social development officers in the various communities would take over the reintegration of the children to ensure that they were enrolled in schools.

Human Trafficking Act

The Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, trading or receipt of persons within and across national borders by the use of threats, force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or exploitation of vulnerability, or giving or receiving payments and benefits to achieve consent”.

Child trafficking, therefore, refers to the recruitment, transportation and transfer of any person below the age of 18, with or without their consent for the purpose of exploitation or abuse of position of vulnerability. Exploitation includes but is not limited to forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Mrs Natsu indicated that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service was investigating the case and some suspects had been arrested.

However, she said the police were yet to apprehend the culprit.

Sensitisation needed

To prevent such incidents from happening, she said the Department of Social Development would make follow-up visits to the affected communities to meet with chiefs, opinion leaders and parents to sensitise them to be able to identify potential traffickers.

She expressed concern about the fact that the trafficker used the media to advertise the recruitment exercise and, therefore, advised the media to be circumspect in accepting advertisements, especially when it had to do with such opportunities.

While the government was making efforts through various policies and programmes to combat the menace of human trafficking, Mrs Natsu urged parents and guardians to ensure that their children completed their education before seeking greener pastures.

“Ghanaians must be on the lookout for such scams. There is no shortcut in the scheme of things and therefore we must all be guided by what has happened to these children and their parents and learn lessons from it,” she added.