I still remember it like it
was yesterday. There I was. Sitting, awaiting my time to speak out against
child trafficking. My hands were so sweaty they looked as if they had been
dipped in water. My heart was beating so loudly that the people next to me could
hear it. That’s just how nervous I was. After all, I was speaking with the
United Nations committee for girls, who could blame me. I tried a few breathing
techniques to calm me down but it had no effect. But suddenly I remembered
something. I began to think about what I was talking about, and whom I was
fighting for. Those thoughts were just the motivation I needed to muster up the
courage to speak on behalf of the innocent victims of child trafficking.
Although illegal, forcing
children into slavery is quite common in countries throughout the world, and it
remains overlooked or practically unnoticed. This is particularly common in
impoverished, third-world countries. When finances are gone, some parents, who
feel they have no other alternative, are coerced to sell at least one or two of
their children into “indentured servitude” to pay off their debts and move
towards a “brighter future.” The nightmare ahead was one no parent could bare:
they had sold their children into slavery and would never see them again. These
children are usually taken away from their homes at a very young age.
Threatened with the fear of death, the young children are forced to work in
different industries. While visiting Ghana in March 2010, I, along with four of
my peers, actually spoke with slave masters, in the hopes that our talk would
lead them to a change of heart, releasing the children from slavery and horror
of Lake Volta.
Lake Volta, located in
Accra, is where child slaves in the fishing industry spend most of their
day. They work on the fishing
boats with their masters under intense heat from sun up to sun down with very
little to eat. Most of them do not
know how to read or write and have never been to school. On the day of our
visit to Lake Volta, accompanied by the land police, I noticed the overpowering
stench of fish. The brutal heat only intensified the smell. The sleeping quarters were horrible, at
best. Most of the children lived
in overcrowded huts with more than fifteen to twenty children huddled
together. Their beds are made of
dirt mounds, their clothes soiled with blood and the gut-wrenching scars that
remain on their bodies from being beaten by their masters was a constant reminder of the conditions
that these children experience every day.
Meal time consists of
leftovers, fish guts and water.
They might eat a little cornmeal porridge if they are lucky. The catch
of the day was either sold or divided amongst the slave master and his family
but never given to the enslaved children. The slave masters saw us coming from
afar and looking very nervous, tried to hide the children under the bow of the
boats. As we approached the boats,
we asked the slave masters if the children were being held captive against
their will, many of the slave masters insisted that the children were happy
with their life, and if the children were asked to leave, they would want to
stay with us. We stressed that
trafficking children into child slavery is illegal and that, according to the
convention on the rights of a child, every child has a right to freedom and an
education. We demanded that the children be released immediately. Negotiations continued with the help of
the town negotiator who continued to plead for the release of the children in
their native language. The slave
masters agreed to release two children Christian and Jacob. The day was bitter sweet, I was happy
that two children were free, but then I thought about the children that
remained slaves as we walked back to the boat. I wish we could have freed them
The two young boys were
taken in by Touch A Life Foundation, a refuge center where many other freed or
runaway slaves would find salvation. There were many other former slaves at the
center of all ages. Donald, 14, is one of the rescued who has been an
inspiration to us all through his perseverance, beneficence, and incredible
will to overcome adversity time and time again. He was open to having a
sit-down with me to talk about some of the hardships that he has had to overcome.
Q. What do you want to be when you
grow up? A. I would like to be a
footballer or an accountant.
Q. What was the best time of your life? A. When I first heard that I would travel
with you, I was so happy. Also,
when I think about my past and someone notices that I’m upset and comes to
cheer me up—that makes me really happy.
Q. How do you
feel about this experience and what have you gotten out of it? A. I’m the
happiest I’ve ever been. Because
of this trip with you I have been able to do things I’ve never done
before. I’ve been to Kakum Park
and Elmina Castle. I got to stay
in a hotel and swim in a pool.
Swimming in a pool is safe and I got to have fun and didn’t have to
Q. What was your life like when you were
enslaved?A. We would only eat two times a day and
that would make me sad. We would
have to eat so fast that we weren’t even allowed to pray over our food. The master would say “if you pray, you
are wasting your time!” I had to
work two jobs which kept me working from the early morning into the night. At midnight I would go out to cast the
nets until 6am. Then I would have
to go into the town and sell donuts until 5 or 6pm. If I was late, I would be tied to a tree and beaten by my
master. Then I would rest for 4-5
hours and go back to the lake again.
The worst thing was when it was raining. We would have to run very fast to take shelter in the master’s
house. But there were 50 children
or more trying to get in. Some of
us would not be able to fit, so we would have to run to the shore and turn the
boats over for shelter. Saturdays
were the best day because we wouldn’t have to go out on the lake or go sell, we
could just play. But then on
Sunday, we would have to go back to the same thing.
Q. How would you say life is for you now? A. It is good. Very good. When
I came here I didn’t know how to speak English. Now I can speak English. I’m going to school and I can do things on my own without
someone commanding me to do it.
Sometimes my master will call me and ask me for credits for his cell
phone. Sometimes I will even send
them to him, because the bible says you should pay good for bad and good will
come back to you.
Attributes like selfishness
and greed are traps that can ruin the lives of many individuals. Service was my
escape from such a trap. Being compelled to serve others has allowed me to
overcome much negativity. As said
by Marian Wright-Edelman, “service is the rent we pay for living.” It’s not an
option but a moral obligation. We should not look for self-gratification, nor
should we seek the recognition and applause of others. Instead, we must seek to make a positive
impact through our service as selfless agents of change.