Rescuing children trafficked into Ghana’s fishing industry

By Elise Derstine | May 14, 2020 | Africa & The Middle East | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation

At great personal peril, Challenging Heights rescues Ghanaian children from modern-day slavery and helps them rebuild their lives.

Imagine if you were forced to choose between starving your family or selling your child. Every day, impoverished families in Ghana face this impossible decision.

For the last 15 years, Challenging Heights has worked toward ensuring that no parent has to make that choice. Challenging Heights is a Global Fund for Children partner and a winner of the 2020 Juliette Gimon Courage Award.

As seasonal farmers and fisherfolk, families living in Ghana’s coastal communities are at the mercy of the climate: poor harvests and unpredictable weather can be devastating. Many rely on their children to contribute to family income.

Tragically, these precarious circumstances make coastal Ghana a prime source for trafficking children to Lake Volta, the largest artificial reservoir in the world. In desperation, parents sell or loan their children in exchange for cash. Many of them are unaware of the hazardous conditions their children will endure as a result. An estimated 20,000 children work on the lake as modern slaves.

James Kofi Annan, Founder and President of Challenging Heights, knows these circumstances all too well. James himself was trafficked to Lake Volta when he was just 6 years old, and he spent seven years enslaved there.

Remarkably, James managed to escape and pursue his education. After building a career as a bank manager, he founded Challenging Heights in 2005 to prevent more children from going through what he had experienced.

Challenging Heights coordinates comprehensive recovery and rehabilitation for rescued children, including helping them go to school. © Rosie Hallam / Financial Times

Each year, Challenging Heights ventures out onto the waters of Lake Volta to rescue dozens of children who have been trafficked into the fishing industry. After rescue, the children receive comprehensive care at a recovery center, where they stay until they can safely reintegrate into their families and communities.

Challenging Heights works closely with families before and after rescue, helping to secure healthcare and education for the child, and livelihood support for their families.

A boy who spent years working on Lake Volta returns to his family, thanks to the support of Challenging Heights. © Challenging Heights

But rescue and rehabilitation are only part of the organization’s work. It also operates several programs to address child trafficking’s root causes, including family separation and poverty, to help prevent children from being sold in the first place.

Recognizing the systemic oppression women face – and that many mothers hold a critical role as their children’s primary caregiver – Challenging Heights offers vocational training and an economic empowerment program for women. A key part of this program is providing cold storage and a community smokehouse for women in the fishing industry, so that they have a way to store and preserve their fish year-round.

A woman working in the Challenging Heights' community smokehouse. © Challenging Heights

A youth empowerment program offers free skills training to youth aged 15 to 25. Young people study trades like hairdressing, tailoring, phone repair, or professional driving, while also gaining skills in computers, business, and leadership development.

17-year-old Gladys is enrolled in a culinary training program at Challenging Heights' vocational training center. © Challenging Heights

Working closely with trafficking survivors, families, schools, and communities, Challenging Heights also raises awareness about child trafficking and children’s rights, including their right to an education and to live free from violence. The organization regularly advocates for the expansion of government social protection programs, and participates in research projects to inform best practices around trafficking prevention and child reintegration.

As a winner of the 2020 Juliette Gimon Courage Award, Challenging Heights was selected for its courageous work from among 14 award finalists that have confronted death threats, defied the Taliban to operate secret girls’ schools, and helped children with disabilities climb mountains.

Learn more about Challenging Heights and see James accept the award.

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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