Challenging Heights – against child trafficking in Ghana

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Christine of the organisation Challenging Heights struggling against child trafficking in Ghana to affirm the right of every single child to live as child and not as slave.  
Tell us something about the history of your organisation Challenging Heights?
Challenging Heights was founded in 2005 by James Kofi Annan. James was trafficked when he was six years old and spent seven years enslaved on Lake Volta. He managed to escape and put himself through school and university. After university, he became a bank manager, but couldn’t forget about his experience on Lake Volta and the other children that were there. He saved up money while working at the bank to start Challenging Heights, and once he did it became his full time job.
 What are the current data related to child trafficking in Ghana?
There are a number of figures that are related to child trafficking and child labour in Ghana. According to the ILO, there are 49,000 children working on Lake Volta, with 21,000 of them doing hazardous labour. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey 6, 2.4 million children in Ghana, 28.5% of children, are engaged in some kind of economic activity. More than 1.8 million children in Ghana are engaged in child labour (“deprives child of health, education or development”), or about 21.8% of children. Around 1.2 million children in Ghana are engaged in hazardous labour (“slavery, prostitution, illicit activities or potentially harmful”), which is 14.2%. According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, 103,300 people are in modern slavery in Ghana, with 85% of them engaged in forced labour.
 How do you address the prevention?
Our efforts to prevent trafficking cover a couple of different methods. One of our main efforts is to address the poverty that often leads to trafficking. One of our programmes is the Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme. Through this programme we have built a fish smoking house for women in the community to use for free. Fish smoking is a major economic business in the coastal communities, however the traditional smoking ovens are made from mud and are not covered, so when it rains smoking has to stop and the ovens slowly disintegrate. Our ovens are made from concrete and are covered, providing a safe and welcoming space for women to smoke fish. We have also opened a cold store. Previously, women needed to travel four hours one way to buy fish to smoke when it is outside of the fishing season or catches are low. This would cost them a day for travel, and great opportunity costs. With our local cold store, the women no longer have to travel far distances to purchase fish to smoke. We also do community sensitisation campaigns and have Community Child Protection Committees that help us to spot potential problematic cases before they turn into trafficking cases.
What are the best strategies in order to reintegrate former victims of traffiking?
Are there substantial obstacles to their social inclusion?
Some of the best strategies for children’s reintegration are laid out in the recently published Guidelines for Children’s Reintegration from Family for Every Child. We helped participate in the creation of these guidelines and are a member of the Family for Every Child network. I can’t say that we’ve experienced much difficulty relating to their social inclusion after reintegration, although a small minority of children do experience lasting mental health challenges that we work to support and address.
 How do you advocate children rights at the national level? 
We are constantly in touch with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and with various Members of Parliament making our position known that the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit needs to be well funded and efforts from the government to combat trafficking need to be increased. We also often have national and international news stories that draw attention to these issues.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how? 
We collaborate with a number of local agencies, including the police, the navy and the Department of Social Welfare. We have working with the police to help the to recognise trafficking at their roadside checkpoints, and they have intercepted a number of children and referred them to us. We also work with the police and navy on Lake Volta when we are conducting rescues of children. We first try to negotiate on our own for the release of the child, but if the slave masters do not cooperate, we come back with the police and navy to arrest them. We share our workplan with the Department of Social Welfare and collaborate where our activities overlap. We also collaborate with other NGOs. As we operate the best recovery shelter in Ghana, as rated by the US State Department, with work with other NGOs that rescue children to assist with the rehabilitation and recovery process.