It seems like only yesterday that Cissy, 25, was lured by a man claiming to be a travel agent who promised her the opportunity of a high-paying job. “Because I am a young woman who comes from a normal family and who really needs help, I fell for his lies,” she sums up a situation that is being repeated in Ghana.
Cissy, as IPS asks to be mentioned, admits that she was a bit skeptical about the offer and was afraid of the destination country, but the supposed travel agent eventually persuaded her that she had nothing to worry about.
“She said she had a host mother who would meet me at the airport. In fact, she was the one sponsoring my trip and I was supposed to be working for her, and she claimed that the job was legitimate,”she adds.
However, the story changed when she arrived at the airport in her destination country, Iraq.
“A man came to pick me up and took my passport. I was taken to a house where I saw other young African women locked in the room, some with price tags. At that moment I realised what I had got myself into,” says Cissy.
She and the other women were smuggled into Iraq to work as domestic servants.
“I saw my own African sisters being physically and mentally abused. Some were sexually harassed and subjected to forced labour on an empty stomach,” says the rescued young woman.
She tried to return to Ghana, but was unable to do so until several months afterwards. After countless failed escape attempts, which left her on the verge of losing her life, she finally managed to escape and was able to return home with the help of a Good Samaritan and the authorities. Since returning to the West African country last November, Cissy has devoted her time and energy to advocacy for irregular migrants.
“I am glad to be alive today to tell my story, but not all young women who travel abroad have the opportunity I had to return home to their families,” she says.
Deputy Police Commissioner William Ayaregah tells IPS that human trafficking is multifaceted and encompasses a variety of situations, from debt bondage to exploitation of all kinds, including sexual exploitation and organised crime.
“The problems of human trafficking remain a human rights violation and a cancer in the Ghanaian society because it is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking,” says Ayaregah, deputy director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department.
The Gulf of Guinea, which is home to this country of 32.2 million people, is also characterised by irregular cross-border migration, human trafficking and child exploitation.
Ayaregah details that recently, Its unity together with the non-governmental organisation End Modern Slavery and the Department of Social Welfare, rescued four children, two boys and two girls, from a trafficker and reunited them with their families.
It reveals that the two children, aged 10 and 13, were trafficked by a family friend identified as Rose, a trader from Berekum-Senase in the Bono East Region. The trafficker told the families that the children would go to school in Accra, where she would take them in. But instead, she sent them to the street to sell.
Ayaregah says the suspect, when arrested and investigated, claimed in her defence that she had been sending the equivalent of about four dollars monthly to the children’s parents in Berekum.
In another case, two girls aged 13 and 17 were taken from the rural village of Akim-Aboabo in Birim Central Municipality to Amanse, a village in Ayensuano District in the east of the country, to be engaged in modern-day slavery conditions in “garri”, the drying of cassava or manioc into a flour-like powder, which is typical of African cuisine. End Modern Slavery’s Director of Operations, Afasi Komla, tells IPS that many victims of human trafficking have had traumatic experiences afterwards, when they are interviewed and participate in legal proceedings against the criminals who trafficked them.
“In their attempts to get help, they have experienced ignorance, misunderstanding, victimisation and punishment for the crimes their traffickers made them commit,” she says.
She adds that her organisation has been able to help identify and save hundreds of victims and support their rehabilitation. The Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Hajia Lariba Abudu, says the country has increasingly responded to the problems of human trafficking with various initiatives.
It passed the Human Trafficking Act in 2005 to prevent, reduce and punish human trafficking offences and for the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of trafficking and related matters.
“The Ministry, together with our partners, we embarked on advocacy and community engagement to educate the public on the dangers of human trafficking,” he tells IPS.
Abudu indicates that as a result, the government together with law enforcement officers, social workers and non-governmental organisations, in 2021, 842 victims of human trafficking were rescued, provided with comprehensive care to help them overcome the trauma and 812 of them were reintegrated back into their localities and families.
In addition, a shelter for adult victims was opened on 1 February 2019, where 178 female victims of trafficking have been cared for, “and we continue to receive and care for victims at the shelter,” she says.
Another shelter for child victims of trafficking became operational in August 2020 and has so far cared for 98 rescued children.
The deputy minister adds that her department received and investigated 108 cases, 42 of which were sex trafficking, 60 labour trafficking and six related cases that started as human trafficking offences.
“Thirty-four cases were sent to the courts for prosecution. Of these, 22 cases were prosecuted with 37 defendants, and we have secured 17 convictions for the country,” he says.
Abudu says that while much has been achieved, it is far from enough, and calls for strengthening partnerships to reduce the incidence of human trafficking, strengthening government institutions and increasing public awareness.