Honorable Minister for Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur,
Civil society partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. To begin, I would like to thank Right to Be Free for the invitation to speak this morning about this important topic.
Freedom and justice. Those words are emblazoned on Ghana’s coat of arms. They are seen in government buildings across this country. It is bold, hopeful message fit for the ambitions of this great nation. And I believe this motto is as instructive and powerful today as when it was adopted nearly sixty years ago. We are all here today to discuss the many challenges we face related to human trafficking in Ghana and around the world. As you delve into the complexities of this problem and how best to fill the gaps in our response, I would ask that you be guided by Ghana’s motto. Let us make freedom and justice a reality for trafficking victims.
I would like to examine these two concepts in turn.
When I speak of freedom for victims, rescue operations conducted by the police and NGOs are only one piece of the picture. Before they can act, victims need to be identified—something that takes a whole-of-government and, in fact, a whole-of-society effort.
Recently we saw how ordinary citizens who had an interest in the well-being of their community made the difference between slavery and freedom for trafficked children. Two weeks ago, the Ghana Police Service and the anti-trafficking NGO Challenging Heights rescued four children from Lake Volta. They had allegedly been sold into slavery by their father. This rescue might not have happened but for the actions of concerned neighbors. They reported to the local police that the children had been absent from their father’s house, where they had been living in recent years. This was enough for the authorities and Challenging Heights to jump into action, investigating the case and organizing and executing a successful rescue.
This rescue happened due to the coordinated efforts of an anti-trafficking civil society organization, the police, and engaged community members. This type of collaboration is essential if we are to give freedom to the more than 100,000 people currently suffering in forced labor and sexual slavery in this country. Each sector has role to play, and through complementary action we can maximize our resources and make a stand against the traffickers.
Because of the enormous scale of the human trafficking problem in Ghana, it is critical that members of the public be active participants in the fight against the traffickers. We need to improve awareness of the ploys traffickers use to lure and capture their victims. Community members who have this knowledge are empowered to take action. We saw this with those neighbors, who noticed the children were missing, sensed something was not right, and reached out to the police.
I want to be clear: When we speak of child labor and slavery, we are not talking about children who are helping their parents with chores after school. Traffickers promise parents of children as young as 5 years old that they will provide the children with an education and an apprenticeship. Instead they exploit the boys in fishing on Lake Volta or in illegal gold mines or other industries. They exploit the girls in domestic servitude. The children are forced to work long hours, often in dangerous conditions. They are robbed of the chance to attend school, learn to read, and just be a child. That is not learning a trade or helping the family. That is slavery, and it has no place in today’s Ghana.
Now let’s talk about justice. It is equally important to freedom for the victims of trafficking. The level of impunity for traffickers both here in Ghana and across the world is, frankly, unacceptable. The survivors and the Ghanaian people deserve justice.
One obvious way to achieve this justice is to prosecute the traffickers. This demands:
- investigating trafficking networks,
- collecting the evidence required to uphold convictions for traffickers and, ultimately,
- securing sentences appropriate to the crimes they have perpetrated.
An end to impunity for the traffickers sends the message that they will not be tolerated in Ghana.
Justice for victims of trafficking also means ensuring they are provided the comprehensive and compassionate care they require. Survivors often share harrowing tales of the abuse they have experienced. Caring for people who have been through such trauma requires time and resources. They must be provided victim-centered physical and mental treatment. They need assistance to reintegrate into their communities and find a pathway to educational, vocational, and economic opportunities.
Rescued victims also need adequate shelters—safe places where they can receive the post-trauma care and counselling they require. Shelters aid in bringing traffickers to justice. They make it easier for victims to provide testimony in court and protect them from intimidation by their former captors. The capacity of the shelters in Ghana serving trafficking victims is sadly insufficient to meet the current need. NGOs are attempting to fill the gap by maintaining their own shelters, but it is not enough. I strongly urge the government to work closely with civil society to dedicate resources to building new shelters and improving the care given at the shelters that currently exist. It is critical that we provide trafficking victims the care that they need and deserve.
Providing this type of rehabilitative care is a heavy responsibility, but we have a moral obligation to provide for these survivors.Thankfully no stakeholder is alone in this effort. Through improved coordination between government authorities, anti-trafficking NGOs, and civil society organizations, such as religious communities, we can rise to the occasion. It takes the continued dedication of time, resources, and energy, but it is achievable.
Sadly, we have not seen many successes in the fight against trafficking in persons in Ghana over the last two years. This is why Ghana is now on the State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for the second year in a row. We have seen some steps in the right direction in the past month. I strongly urge the government to redouble its efforts to combating these crimes—not for the sake of an international ranking, but for the children and young people of Ghana who represent this country’s future. Such efforts will only be effective with a significant increase in the resources dedicated to combating trafficking. We are helping as much as we can through various U.S. government programs, including the $5 million Child Protection Compact. But what is really needed is a much greater commitment from the Ghanaian government:
- A commitment to fund the Anti-Human Trafficking Units and the necessary investigative tools for police;
- A commitment to creating a system that empowers well-prepared state attorneys and police prosecutors to prosecute trafficking cases before well-prepared judges;
- And a commitment to significantly upgrading the number and quality of shelters for victims.
Freedom and justice. Freedom and justice for trafficking victims. That is what we are striving for and that is why we are all here today. We face a daunting challenge, not just here in Ghana, but around the world. Your presence at this symposium and the work you do each day demonstrates to the traffickers that we are fighting back. Thank you for all that you do. The United States is proud to be partnering with the Ghanaian government and the anti-trafficking civil society community in this effort. For the sake of the victims that remain in captivity, we must continue this fight. Through committed and coordinated action, we will make freedom and justice a reality for trafficking victims.