Child slaves risk their lives on Ghana’s Lake Volta

Achibra had first encountered the boat with Adam and his master, Samuel, several days earlier. He began speaking with Samuel about using children that are not his, to fish on the lake.

“I try to build a rapport with the master,” says Achibra. “Because he has paid money to the family and he has purposefully brought him here to the lake to work, I can’t take them by force. Anything can happen on the lake.”

Two days later and back at the village, negotiations began in earnest under the shade of a thatched roof. At stake, the freedom of six children. First though, Samuel was asked to explain how he came to obtain the children he now enslaves.

“I normally visit various homes and get these boys to come help,” says Samuel, through an interpreter. “What this typically requires is to sit down with the family, with a mother or father or relative, sit down with them and agree on terms before you take the child. If your son stays with me for three years, the family normally requests a cow.”

When asked how he feels about putting children in danger to enrich himself, Samuel’s answer is startling:

We all know that working on the lake is very dangerous and anything can happen,” says Samuel. “But one thing I can say, is in this world, if you don’t set a trap, you can’t catch fish. So in order to live, you have to find a way.”

In Ghana, the minimum age for workers is 15. But that law is rarely enforced. The US State Department, in its annual report on human trafficking around the world, spotlighted the problem on Lake Volta when it stated “more than half of the children working on and around the lake were born in other communities and many of these children are subjected to forced labor; not allowed to attend school; given inadequate housing and clothing; and are controlled by fishermen through intimidation, violence, and limiting access to food.”

For its part, the government in Ghana is aware of the problem and working, albeit slowly, to remove children. In 2017, the country hosted its “National Child Labor Day” in the lakeside town of Kete Krachi, to call awareness to the issue. There is also an effort to register all the boats on the lake, which could make it easier to track down and punish fishermen using child slaves.

“We haven’t started implementation yet,” says Prince Latif Oyekunle, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Krachi West District. “But we have discussed it at the executive committee meeting and at some general assembly meetings and a go ahead has been given.”