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enslaved children in GhanaTouch A Life is a nonprofit organization located in Dallas, Texas that rescues enslaved children in Ghana. Randy and Pam Cope co-founded the Touch A Life Foundation in November 1999. After reading about child labor trafficking on Lake Volta in 2006, the couple decided to focus their organization’s contributions to Ghana. Touch A Life seeks to further expand its accomplishments, by liberating as many slaves as possible and providing rehabilitation services.

Enslaved Children in Ghana

The International Labour Organization reports that an estimated 20,000 children are currently enslaved on Lake Volta, working for fishermen who are considered their “masters.” Typically, the traffickers trick families into selling their children for roughly $250, promising the families that the children will receive an education. Most children, some as young as 5 years old, come to the lake from Ghanian villages hundreds of miles away.

Working in partnership with a devoted team of Ghanaians and the Ghanian Department of Social Welfare, the Touch A Life Foundation has rescued hundreds of trafficked children. The organization does not reunite the children with their families due to fears that the cycle of trafficking will persist. Instead, Touch A Life provides housing for rescued children.

A Holistic Approach

Through the housing programs Touch A Life offers, the organization administers holistic and customized child care. Their procedures include regular medical and mental assessments, rehabilitation arrangements and educational and vocational empowerment. By offering these services through their housing accommodations, Touch A Life provides hope to the children in order to help in restoring their lives.

In 2012, Touch A Life manufactured its first long-term rehabilitative care center for trafficked children. Located in Kumasi, Ghana, the Touch A Life Care Center is home to more than 100 rescued children. At the Care Center, the children receive the education that was promised by traffickers but resulted in enslavement. In 2015, the organization constructed an all-girls children’s dorm called Zachary’s House in Kumasi, Ghana. The home now fosters 14 young girls who were rescued in the fall of the same year.

Later in 2016, Life Academy Center launched in Accra, Ghana, helping transition the children from the Care Center to independent adulthood. The Academy currently serves eight students in their mid-20s. The students are offered professional skills education related to banking, health awareness, public speaking and goal development. They are also a part of the Ghana Sewing Collective, which is led by the Life Academy Mentor, Eunice. The Ghana Sewing Collective teaches the students the basics of sewing to make products, introducing the students to working for a small business owner and working with a team towards a shared goal.

Furthermore, all of the housing campuses include rehabilitative art centers. In 2016, Kim Lewis Designs and the team from Art Feeds aided Touch A Life in crafting a therapeutic space where the children can express their emotions creatively. Kwame Ayensu is the current Art Director for the center and engages the children in art healing practices.

Beyond Ghana

Touch A Life also offers rehabilitation centers in Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam, the organization operates a house in Saigon in order to protect vulnerable children from trafficking in Southeast Asia. The home currently supports 30 abandoned children. The identities of the children are withheld due to safety concerns. Rapha House in Cambodia works to rescue and heal AIDs orphans and sexually exploited children. Rapha House is home to 220 children, 25 adult women and has two art centers on its campus, including the Selah Art Center and Lilly’s Art Center.

Touch A Life in Ghana has educated hundreds of rescued children who have moved on to Ghanian boarding schools and even university. The organization enables and equips rescued children with opportunities to pursue a new life filled with freedom and hope. Touch A Life continues to rescue children in the Lake Volta region and plans to advance their ambitions to end child exploitation. Touch A Life’s website provides multiple options for those interested in getting involved with the cause.

– Kacie Frederick
Photo: @touchalife

Child Trafficking in Ghana
Ghana, as a country, represents an epicenter for a vicious cycle where many men, women and children are victims of trafficking. This topic is a huge challenge for the country. Countless of Ghana’s children are taken from their homes and brought to work in poor conditions, mostly in the fishing industry. These young children are then forced to work long hours and live in squalor.

It is more common for boys to be forced into hard labor that includes things as diving into the water to untangle the fishing nets, while girls are sent to the Middle East where they become domestic workers in households or prostitutes being obligated to sell their bodies. According to the Head of the Counter-Trafficking Department of the International Organization for Migration child trafficking in Ghana is actually a distortion of the old cultural practice of placement with relatives or townspeople.

Statistics of Child Trafficking

Three thousand children are victims of child trafficking each day worldwide. It is estimated that child trafficking is an industry that earns $10 million yearly, but what are the factors that can cause a child to be trafficked? One prominent factor is lack of education and this certainly is one of the causes of child trafficking in Ghana as 623,500 children in Ghana are not even enrolled in school.

Extreme poverty also plays an issue in child trafficking as families sometimes leave their children behind or give their children to the traffickers. There is a large number of street kids who are easy prey to the traffickers who offer them the allure of a better life. Over 40 million babies are born every year and fail to be identified. Invisible children or the absence of birth registration happens when a child is born and is never registered with the local government or council. These children are perfect victims for child traffickers.

Challenging Heights’ Work

One organization that is currently working as an advocate for the right to a safe and protected home for every child in Ghana is Challenging Heights. James Kofi Annan founded the organization in 2003 and advocates for children rights. Annan was a fishing slave himself and was forced to work for seven years before he escaped, got an education and became a bank manager.

Challenging Heights is an organization committed to ending child trafficking in Ghana, reducing child slavery and promoting children’s rights in the country. They are currently focused on child labor, especially in the fishing and cocoa industry. As many as 24,000 children are victims of worst forms of child labor annually in Ghana. Challenging Heights’ works on improving child rights through three types of agendas: rescuing, preventing and advocating.

Challenging Heights also works to economically empower the women of Ghana. One plan that this organization has implemented is opening a smokehouse where the women can preserve the fish caught by the fisherman. The women can use the smokehouses free of charge and then they are able to sell their fish within the community, helping them make an income for their families. Challenging Heights also offers youth empowerment Programs. These programs teach children a certain career skill and offer training programs to hopefully set the youth up on the right track towards obtaining an education or a job.

Lake Volta Actions

Many of Challenging Heights rescue missions take place at Lake Volta. The Lake was built in the 1960s and is one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Lake Volta is a way of life for most fisherman and people in the country where about 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Children are most often exploited by fishermen desperate to feed their families and eke out a living along the banks of Lake Volta. With help from locals in the community, Challenging Heights makes several recuses a year. The liberated children are taken back to Challenging Heights rehabilitation house and offered care. This care can vary from medical, psychological or emotional. Each child stays with the organization for almost a year while their families are interviewed and assessed in hopes that this will deter them from falling back into child trafficking.

Thanks to Challenging Heights, more than 1,500 children have been rescued and 400 children have been given proper care in the organization’s rehabilitation center. The overall goal for this organization is to end child trafficking in Ghana by 2022. Currently, 103,300 people in Ghana are trapped in modern-day slavery. Challenging Heights hopes to combat this number by advocating for the victims, partnering with the government and nongovernmental organizations all while having the goal of ending child trafficking in Ghana in mind.

– Jennifer O’Brien

Photo: Pixabay