At least 571 child labourers in fishing communities in Ghana's Volta and Central regions have been registered for eventual reunification with their families by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the IOM reported on Tuesday.
The first phase of the registration was carried out in Tonka, Jakalai, Kadue, Jyatakpo and Blekente communities in the Atebubu District of Brong Ahafo region in conjunction with local traditional leaders and with the cooperation of the fishermen.
"We met on a one-to-one basis with 96 of the 136 fishermen who are known to employ underaged labour in Brong Ahafo region," Ernest Taylor of IOM Ghana said. "All of them promised to free the children. We told them that in exchange they would receive training and modern fishing equipment, so they won't have to employ children in future."
"We will continue to register all cases of trafficked children in the region. We will then start tracing families with the help of the traditional leaders and the fishermen. Once the families have been identified, we will contact them and provide enough help to ensure that the return of the children is sustainable," Taylor added.
The US-funded IOM programme, which is jointly implemented by the Ghanaian authorities, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Catholic Relief Services and Apple, a local NGO, aims to return and reintegrate over 1,200 children.
According to IOM, child trafficking in Ghana is partially due to poverty. Traditionally it was a common practice for poor parents to hand over their children to relatives and friends, who were expected to look after them. However, this has sometimes resulted in parents effectively selling their children.
IOM said Ghana had no laws against child trafficking, which - along with child labour - is common
in parts of West Africa, where thousands of children work as domestic hands, street vendors, servants in small restaurants, and agricultural workers.
Other efforts to curb such abuses include the ‘Combating Trafficking in Children for Labour Exploitation in West and Central Africa' programme, a three-year initiative launched in 2000 by the ILO and which covers Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Togo.
A West and Central African Convention against Child Trafficking is due to be ratified in 2004.