Human trafficking is an international problem affecting millions of people and many countries around the world. In Ghana, West Africa, the internal trafficking of children is one of the biggest challenges.

Recent field report by the Eban Centre for Human Trafficking Studies, entitled “Data behind the traffic” indicate that there is a rise in the trafficking of minors for sex. According to the report girls who serve as apprentices as a way to learn trade are susceptible to the menace of sex trafficking.  The reports explained that these girls come from impoverished families and communities and are often Junior High School dropouts, non-school going girls and migrants from the northern regions of Ghana.

The report further indicated that although poverty levels have been decreasing, economic growth within the country is uneven, with a large degree of inequality. Increasing prosperity is focused in the more metropolitan areas of the country, while the north remains underdeveloped. Also, whiles the Ghanaian constitution provides all children with a free, compulsory basic education from kindergarten to now senior high school, not all children complete their education. Children in the northern regions of the country, especially girls, are less likely to attend school, leading to an education disparity and further making them vulnerable to trafficking.

The report also noted that the rising levels of unemployment in the country is fuelling the rise of cross border trafficking by the youth. Fraudulent recruitment agencies are behind the movement of these vulnerable youth.

Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa). The sixth Ghana Living Standard Survey (GLSS 6) estimates that there are more than 8.6 million children between the ages of five and 17 in Ghana. Over 1.8 million (21.8 per cent) of them are engaged in child labour and over 1.2 million (14.2 per cent) are engaged in hazardous child labour.

Human trafficking is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. In Ghana, the Human Trafficking Act, Act 694 as amended prescribes penalties of a minimum of five years of imprisonment. The 2015 regulations for this Act provide specific guidance on sentencing depending on the circumstances; in general, the term is not less than five years and not more than 25 years, but if a parent, guardian or other person with parental responsibilities facilitates or engages in trafficking, they are liable to a fine or a term of imprisonment of not less than five years and not more than 10 years, or both.  Also, the 1998 Children’s Act (Act 560), the 1960 Criminal Act (Act 29) and the 1960 Criminal Procedure Act (Act 30) exist to help combat human trafficking.

Simply put, human trafficking is when someone stands to gain from someone else’s exploitation. The actual act of exploitation need not have occurred to be considered trafficking; simply, motivation or intent to exploit for gain must be present. Act 694 specifies that when children are trafficked, the consent of the child, parents or guardian of the child cannot be used as a defence in prosecution under this Act, meaning that for children, the consent of the child, parent or guardian does not justify the exploitation. For children, trafficking is defined by the action (i.e. recruit, transfer, harbour or receipt) and purpose (i.e. sexual exploitation or forced labour). The national legislation is aligned with international normative framework.

Research have shown that most victims of child trafficking are from poverty stricken homes. Although poverty is generally recognized as one of the causes of child trafficking, locating and defining it has been problematic. To understand human trafficking, it is necessary to investigate the role poverty plays. Rather than restricting the discussion on poverty to its measure, research on trafficking needs a broad concept of poverty that covers deprivation of capabilities and opportunities.

Ending human trafficking in both its causes and consequences should be a matter of urgency for the government of Ghana. Fostering partnership both local and international to bring about prompt prosecution and possible conviction to deter would be traffickers should be a top most aspiration of the government of Ghana.  It is also imperative for the government and civil society organizations to rigorously campaign, educate and sensitize the public about the evils of sex trafficking. Also, government should look at innovative ways of funding the human trafficking fund and also social protection programmes should be well targeted to those who genuinely needs assistance. For students to stay in school, the needed educational infrastructure such as dormitories, classrooms, play grounds, and educational resources etc. are provided for students. Appropriate measures should be implemented to help them complete school. Government should make sure that the rise in the level of school attendance brings about equal rate of school completion.  Finally, the report edged government to create avenues for decent jobs and also encourage entrepreneurship among the youth.

Trafficking in minors for sex and to a large extent, human trafficking is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. The time to act is now.