The STOP CHILD LABOUR & TRAFFICKING PROJECT, launched in March 2011, has become the foremost project for Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF). Its mission is to combat the endemic problem of child labour and trafficking in the fishing communities of Fetteh, Nyanyano and Senya Beraku within the Central Region of Ghana through education, rehabilitation, and community empowerment. In these communities, many children have been forced to forgo an education in order to work in the fishing industry for low or no wages. Sometimes these children are trafficked to distant fishing villages for years at a time and exploited with no compensation.  Our research has shown that most children have been injured on the boats, numerous have reported instances of bullying and abuse at the hands of the fishermen and others describe cases of other trafficked children dying as a result of the dangerous work they are forced to perform.  The children are often paid in fish, which they attempt to sell in the market for money to feed themselves. Some are trafficked because of their family’s financial circumstances; in desperation, the family is forced to sell their child into service for a small sum of money. Other children are encouraged by their parents to labour instead of learn.  Even though school enrollment has increased in recent years, there remains a significant amount of the child population still involved in child labour. Most of the children wish to go to school if they had the opportunity.

“‘Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

– United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

To combat the problem, Cheerful Hearts Foundation provides educational sponsorship to current child labourers and children who have returned from being trafficked.  The sponsorship programme seeks to eliminate the financial constraints associated with the child’s education and covers school fees, stationary, textbooks, uniforms and sometimes school lunch. We also provide academic and socio-emotional support services to the rescued children thanks to special vacation classes, tutoring and educational excursions. The Stop Child Labour & Trafficking Project currently assists children ranging in ages from six to sixteen. CHF’s goal is to rescue and rehabilitate 100 trafficked or labouring children by the end of 2013. We select children in need based on the research conducted by CHF’s interns, local volunteers, and through consultations with the Chief and Elders in each community.

“[For a long time] I woke up in the morning very sad because I had to work with the fisherman.  But thanks to Cheerful Hearts, I am so happy now when I wake up because I know I get to go to school.”

– Emmanuel, 10 year old child rescued in April 2011

CHF is also spearheading long term initiatives in order to empower and educate communities to refrain from violating the rights of children.  The Stop Child Labour & Trafficking Project hosts community durbars, or large meetings, to raise awareness on the dangers of child labour and trafficking, education sessions for parents and fisherman on the importance of a basic education for their children, child rights, basic literacy, financial management, and community pride. By joining with and educating the community members, CHF empowers individuals to tackle these issues themselves, resulting in sustainable change. Furthermore we are touring a children’s rights education talk around local schools to raise awareness on the importance of education and to dissuade children from dropping out of school in order to work. The goal of this tour is to empower the children to take hold of their own futures, show them the role and responsibility that they can have in their community, and the basic rights to which all children are entitled.

Cheerful Hearts Foundation plans to expand the Child Labour & Trafficking project in the near future to include a financial assistance division and a mental health rehabilitation programme.  The ability to provide alternative income generation methods, financial training, and micro-loans to parents of child labourers is vital in addressing the root cause of the labour and trafficking problem: poverty.  These programmes will allow our sponsorship programme to become more sustainable, requiring that parents pay for schooling after the first year of sponsorship with their bolstered incomes.  The last crucial piece of the Child Labour & Trafficking project is a mental health rehabilitation programme and centre.  The trafficked children and child labourers not only have physical scars but emotional and psychological wounds that will be with them forever.  The need to address these wounds is evident in how the children behave at home, school, and with their peers.  Our rehabilitation centre will help to reintroduce these children to their communities in a controlled and secure way.  By administering a financial assistance division, rehabilitation centre and mental health experts CHF will be able to address the labour and trafficking epidemic with a holistic approach.

 

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