Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Taken in the name of ‘rescue’: a child responds

Ghanaian children are being wrenched from their parents and put into care homes to ‘save’ them from work

30 March 2022, 6.00am
Hayford Telli. All rights reserved

This story is part of a series of child worker voices that Beyond Trafficking and Slavery gathered in the Lake Volta and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana, areas frequently targeted for intervention by people seeking to end child labour. The children were asked to describe their work, why they do it, and how the country's decision-makers could help them. Their answers were translated out of the local Twi language and edited for clarity.

I am 13 years old. The people in power who want to stop children from working in bad jobs need to understand our situation before they take action. I say this because of my experience with the police and NGO people who wanted to stop me and other children from working on the lake.

Last year they came to take us from our parents by force. We were on the lake, and they came with guns and weapons. They screamed at our father and said he was a bad man because he should have taken us to school instead of bringing us fishing. They took us away in their speedboats. But before that, they made us take off our clothes and took pictures of us semi-naked with the canoe paddles. I don’t know why they did that, but it made me feel very bad.

I remember it when I sleep sometimes. They took me, my siblings, and many other children from nearby communities to a place we didn’t know. We were there for about six months. They didn’t let us see our parents or anyone from our family. I asked about them, but the people who were looking after us didn’t know. Those people were kind to us. They gave us good food and nice clothes. There took us to school and did other things for us.

But I was angry and sad all the time, because they also said bad things about us and our families. I didn’t agree that my father is bad. He takes care of all of us even though we don’t have a lot. We fish together to feed ourselves and get what our family needs. The work is hard but I like working with my father, and he does the hardest parts.

“They warned my father that he would be put in prison if they found him with his children on the lake again.”

When we were at the centre, they kept telling us that it is bad for a child to work on the lake. I was surprised at this because none of them even knew my village. They didn’t know about our situation, about why we work on the lake. They said we had been forced to work and other things that were not true. Many of us went along with that because we were afraid we would get into trouble if we said something different. We thought they might not let us see our families again if we disagreed with them.

After some time, they finally let us go to our families again. I was very happy that day, but I was also sad. There were things about the centre that I liked and I wished that I could continue having them. We had good food to eat and I didn’t have to work. Since I came home, nothing had changed for us in our lives. Things are now even more difficult, because we can’t help father to catch fish for the family. They warned him that he would be put in prison if they found him with his children on the lake again.

If those people had asked me and my siblings why we were fishing that day, we would have told them it was because we want to help our family and not because we were being forced. We also want to go to school. The school in our area is very bad, and so we would have told them to build better schools and find teachers to help those of us who attend. But they didn’t want to listen to us. They had their own ideas.

Maybe they are doing to right thing. But every child comes from a different home and a different situation, so they can’t use the same plan for all of us. They need to listen to every child they want to help. How could they help us properly if they don’t?

About the Artist

My name is Hayford Telli and I'm a self-taught artist in Accra, Ghana. At 11 I was inspired to draw by the cartoon series Captain Planet, and my first sketches were of the show's characters. I continued to develop my skills by doing portraits of friends. Eventually I began to earn income by busking as a sketch artist on the street and by selling my own work. Art has opened up my life opportunities after much adversity as a child. I am now an entrepreneur in street art and digital designs. I also offer other youth life chances by giving them training and employment. We hope to extend our services and horizons beyond the borders of Ghana and welcome anyone who is interested in working with us.

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