Ghana's Child Labourers Our World


Ghana's Child Labourers

A look at how tens of thousands of children in Ghana have been trafficked into forced labour. Yalda Hakim joins a team of charity workers rescuing children around Lake Volta.


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Ghana's biggest fishing ground, Lake Volta, holds a dark secret.

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Tens of thousands of children who work on its waters have been

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trafficked into a life of forced labour.

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Given up by poor families on the promise of a better life.

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Many face violence, and some even die on the job.

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He's a child, but he's no longer a child.

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He's been through things us as adults haven't been through.

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The government has pledged to eradicate this illegal practice.

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There's so many children who could be rescued and could be

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put into this facility, but at the moment there's

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no-one in here.

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With the numbers dramatically on the rise, why are so many

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children still taken and forced to work like slaves?

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Yeji, a small town on the banks of Lake Volta,

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in the centre of Ghana.

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Around 35,000 people live here and the main source

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of income is fishing.

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It's one of Ghana's biggest industries, but the trade relies

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on an army of children - some as young as four or five.

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Dampson was ten when he was brought to work on the lake.

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His mother was tricked into giving him up to a trafficker.

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What were they making you do?

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There are 21,000 like Dampson on Lake Volta alone,

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doing dangerous work, like diving to untangle nets,

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and fishing alone.

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Buying and selling children is big business here.

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They're trafficked into forced labour -

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or what charities would describe as slavery.

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It's early morning here in Yeji and we're on our way

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to the river bank.

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We have very little idea what to expect when we get out there.

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Today, I'm joining a rescue team from the charity Challenging

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Heights.

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Hello, nice to meet you.

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They've been notified about some children who are being held.

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Can you talk us through where we're going today.

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We're rescuing two boys today and one is in this community.

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We'll manoeuvre our way through the tree stumps to get

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to the community where the victim is.

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The team can only afford two trips to the lake a year,

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so they target specific children for rescue.

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They get tip-offs from the community and many parents ask

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for help to bring their children home.

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It takes a lot of resources to rescue a kid.

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We don't give up, we get so much joy from one less kid suffering on Lake

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Volta.

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But their task is huge.

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Last year, Ghana was put on an international watch list

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after a dramatic rise in trafficking.

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We keep seeing these boats, as we're going past,

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with children in them.

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We're not quite sure if these kids are with their parents,

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or they've actually been taken away by the fishermen.

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It's not uncommon for children to work for their families.

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Even when they're meant to be at school.

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The team give advice to a passing fisherman.

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Tell me what you're doing here today.

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How will they help you today?

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These kids, from what they are saying, they have not been

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trafficked, but then, they are being forced to work.

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We just have to advise the parents about the risk the children

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are going through, being on the lake.

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There's little the charity can do about children like these.

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They concentrate on the ones who have been taken from their homes

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and sold to fishermen.

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After a couple of hours on the lake, we reach our destination.

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Steven goes ahead to track down the man we're looking for.

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We have a long walk.

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The fishermen often live miles from any roads.

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He was telling us we should spot two isolated houses -

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OK.

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In that far corner there.

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The fisherman has agreed to talk.

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He says he lives here with his wife and there are several children here.

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The children we're looking for are here, but the fisherman

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is reluctant to hand them over.

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Word has spread and more villagers want to get involved.

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The fisherman has finally given in, but there's an unexpected hitch.

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The child doesn't want to go?

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Eventually, the child obeys his master and we're able

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to leave with both boys.

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But it's not the triumphant rescue I was expecting.

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The fisherman is unlikely to face prosecution

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and the boys seem bewildered.

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This must be quite nerve wracking and frightening for these children

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because they don't know who you are.

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You've just turned up in their homes and then suddenly you're

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taking them away.

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After several years in captivity, these boys are on their way

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to freedom.

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But they don't know who to trust.

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Straight after being rescued, the children are taken

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to the charity's temporary shelter, outside Yeji.

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When I come to visit, I'm pleased to see happy faces here.

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Thank you.

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Good to see you.

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So we've got all of these kids who were rescued.

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This is the start of the process of finding their families.

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Do they know where they've come from and what their names are,

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who their parents are?

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While they're here, they'll get smartened up -

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hair trimmed, nails cut and any injuries treated.

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Hello.

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I'm not hurting you?

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He doesn't have a nail.

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What's happened to your leg?

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What were you doing when your leg hit the boat?

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How bad can it get when they're doing this job?

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Bye.

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Before they can move the children from Yeji,

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the charity needs authorisation from the police.

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These are the names we have rescued, so we are taking them

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back for rehabilitation.

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After that we need to find their parents.

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Ghana has anti-trafficking legislation for the police

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to refer to.

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The authorisation is given to take the children.

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This really is very strange.

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We've told the police we have these children.

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They've given us approval to take them away.

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They're clearly aware this goes on in their communities,

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but they're not doing anything about it.

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Last year, there were no convictions.

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A group of rescued children are preparing to start

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their new life after years of forced labour on Lake Volta.

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It was founded in 2007 by James Kofi Annan.

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Definitely nice to see these children playing.

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If you look at when they were rescued and compare to now,

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you can see that freedom has come.

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The shelter is very close to my heart.

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For seven years, I worked on that lake as a fisher boy.

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Every time I made a mistake, I was badly beaten.

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So that was a life of seven cumulative years of slavery.

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I see myself in the eyes of these children.

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I see these children in my own eyes.

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So it means a lot to me.

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It takes many months to prepare the children for family life again.

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Some have been away from their homes for years.

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These are their rooms.

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These are their rooms.

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Do you see something missing here?

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Do you see something missing here?

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There's no pillow.

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There's no pillow, yeah.

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Why is that?

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Deliberately.

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Most of these children, when they go home, they don't even

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have beds to sleep on.

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We decided OK, no pillow, so that the experience

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here is similar to when they go home.

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11-year-old Boni has been at the shelter for more

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than six months.

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His parents are waiting for him to come home.

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What's his name?

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I want to know how he feels about returning to his family.

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Do you miss your mum and dad?

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Have you seen them yet?

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What did you say to your mum and dad?

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I like the way you dance.

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I even took a video of it.

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Let me show you. Look.

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You're the best dancer in the room.

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Boni's parents live in a poor, rural neighbourhood.

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Hello, nice to see you.

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They have five children.

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His father was a fisherman until he became too ill to work.

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His mother couldn't cope on her own.

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Were you given money initially when he was taken?

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Were you given money initially when he was taken?

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Many poor Ghanaians send their children away to richer

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relatives or people offering to teach them a trade.

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Boni's mother thought she was sending him to a better life

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with her sister.

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Was it very emotional for you when you saw him

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for the first time?

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So what will happen to Boni when he comes back?

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Education is free in Ghana up to the age of 15.

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But many parents still don't send their children,

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because they can't afford the books and uniforms.

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We invite one of you to come.

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Dampson was rescued after four years of forced labour on Lake Volta.

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He's now back at school.

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CHEERING

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His classmates call him "soldier" because of what he's been through.

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He's been given counselling for the trauma he's suffered.

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After he was rescued, Dampson was taken in by his aunt.

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His mother had died while he was still in captivity.

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He wants to show me the room he shared with his mother.

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But it's too painful to set foot inside.

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Reintegrating rescued children back into their homes

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is not always successful.

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They come from poor families who sometimes can't or won't

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take them back.

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Ghana has earned international praise for its efforts

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to fight child labour.

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But the problem is getting worse, not better.

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There are two government-run shelters to house trafficked

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children, but when I visit one, it seems deserted.

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There are kids here at this shelter, but I'm being told that none of them

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have been trafficked.

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There's so many children in Yeji who could be rescued and could be

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put into this facility, but at the moment, there's

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no-one in here.

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We need the government to commit resources

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into freeing these children.

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These are not hidden situation.

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You have an anti-human trafficking unit of Ghana Police Service,

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which is great.

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But they don't have resource.

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They don't even have a boat to rescue children.

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So why is the government doing so little?

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Hello, how are you?

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Fine, thank you.

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Thanks for having me.

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You're welcome.

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You're aware there's this trafficking that goes

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on in the country, but you don't have any rescue missions

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or operations to prevent this from taking place.

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The government is doing a lot.

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What we do is co-ordinate, what we do is train our district

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functionaries to monitor whatever is going on and report.

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The police are there.

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They are doing all that they can to rescue the children.

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The police are not rescuing the children.

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They are not? No.

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The challenge is also the shelters, where to keep the children.

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The challenge is also the shelters, where to keep the children.

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They're not well resourced.

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So, sometimes putting the children in those shelters sometimes even

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looks worse than if they leave them or give them to NGOs.

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It's left to charities like Challenging Heights

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to rescue these children.

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14-year-old Dampson is doing well.

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He's no longer living with his aunt and has moved in with his dad.

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He's a good boy?

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A good boy.

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It's still a struggle, but now Dampson has a place

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he can call home.

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Where do you sleep?

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Is it nice for you to finally be home?

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Dampson has the chance of a bright future, unlike the thousands

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of children still trapped in slave labour on Lake Volta.

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For now, their only hope lies in the small charities prepared

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to do battle on their behalf.

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I want to see a Ghana where every child has the capacity to dream

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about his or her future.

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I want to see justice for every child that was once enslaved.

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Hello there.

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Compared with some other parts of Europe our weather

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is very quiet indeed.

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We had some rain and drizzle pushing southwards during the day yesterday.

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Some breaks in the cloud later, perhaps in Scotland,

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Tens of thousands of children work for fishermen on Lake Volta in Ghana. Many have been given away by poor families in the hope they would have a better life, but they have been trafficked into forced labour and are treated like slaves.

Yalda Hakim joins a team of charity workers travelling around the lake rescuing trafficked children and trying to help them rebuild their lives.