Simpa Panyin: Dear Minister of Employment, What do you need a Human Trafficking Documentary for?

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Last week you wrote a letter to me, demanding a copy of a child labour documentary done by the BBC. I was shocked at your demand, but I managed to respond to you, as briefly as I could, and I did indicate, to your Director who followed up, that, I would do an open and a broader response in my column today.

In your letter you stated that the “Ministry’s attention has been drawn to a documentary aired on 25th July 2016, between the hours of 17:00-18, on a BBC World News through Joy News channel TV on Multi TV of which the video documentary was produced and Directed by Alicia Arce and the Executive Producer was Gwenan Roberts”.

I was disappointed, that such a demand could come from you, and by extension the National Steering Committee on Child Labour (which I am supposed to be a member, but I never get invited for meetings unless there is trouble).

There are thousands and thousands of children suffering under child labour situations. Globally the ILO has estimated over 160million child labourers, and this figure includes those in Ghana. There existed a National Plan of Action on Child Labour (NPA), which ended in2015, which hardly achieved anything. A new one has been done, looking into the future, and that one too has achieved nearly nothing.

The Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS) 6, reports, that, there are over 1.9 million child labourers in Ghana (this is a government agency report, not mine). The Children’s Act contains sections on child labour, which is yawning for implementation. Right on the streets of Accra, Kumasi, and many cities, are drones of out-of-school children working under worst situations, some being raped, others dying of torture.

The National Steering Committee, of your Ministry, had some three hours to meet, and I am surprised that the committee had the luxury of time, despite all that you could have used that time for, to discuss how to demand a tape from me, a tape that I did not produce, a tape that is at the public domain, a tape that was aired nearly a year ago, honorable Minister?

From your letter, you know exactly who produced and aired the said documentary, and exactly where you could have gone for copies of same. Both BBC and Multi TV have clearly known addresses and locations, one in Ghana, the other in Bush House, London. Both media houses keep Youtube channels where all such documentaries are kept online. If such a documentary contains such important information, how could you have waited until after a year to look for a copy? Does it not tell on the poor performance of the Ministry?

And you skipped both of those two media houses, the owners of the documentary, Multi media and BBC, but rather demanded from me copies of something I did not produce, copies of something I do not have copyrights to; does this not confirm the long held believe that the Ministry will always recycle itself, no matter who is appointed a Minister?

It has been the same; E. T. Mensah demonized NGOs who were contracted to implement a project, under the National Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour in Cocoa (NPECLC) project. In the end, he bloated the NPECLC unit with party cronies, and succeeded in weakening the project. His successor, Nii Armah Ashitey, came to see to it that the project was dead, and when Haruna Iddrisu took over, he got angry that Challenging Heights had issued a statement bemoaning the lack of the Ministry’s action on the fight against child labor.

Please kindly let those briefing you, let them also include the fact that the Ministry owes GHC24,000 to Challenging Heights, a debt that is not paid since 2009, we need that money.

May I clarify, honorable, just in case you have not been properly briefed; what we are talking about is not about some children helping their parents after school. We are not talking about boys and girls who help their parents during weekends, no, that is not what we are talking about.

What we are talking about are children who are bought and sold, some for as low as GHC30. We are talking about children who work for as long as over 12 hours per day. We are talking about children whose punishment includes rape, when they make mistakes in the course of their work. We are talking about boys and girls who suffer from street rape, lifelong diseases that never get treatment; those are the children we are talking about.

By the way, Challenging Heights did not only rescue 14 of such children. In 2016 we rescued 77 children, from forced labour. In the last thirteen years, Challenging Heights has rescued 1,600 boys and girls from such situations.

I have already written two published open letters to the honorable Nana Oye Lithur and Otiko Afisa Djaba, the two Ministers of Gender, asking them some critical questions concerning the fight against human trafficking, in the last eight months.

If you begin to do things the same way as your predecessors were doing, you will continue to achieve the same results, you will not get anything done, and you will fail. But the bad news is that those same people who helped your predecessors to fail, they will be the same people to help you fail too.

To do things differently, and to achieve different result, you will have to sack some of them, and you will have to reshuffle others, some of those people are just there to recycle child labour reports. And, I guess, eventually, you will have to change the composition of the National Steering Committee. Otherwise you will soon know that your tenure was not different from your predecessors, the same trees that bore no fruits.

In the year 2009 when the United States of America indicated its intention to lay a trade embargo on Ghana’s Fish (Tilapia), I was one of the individuals your ministry invited to provide a response to the US Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB).

At the workshop held in Accra to provide inputs, I raised the issue of bamboo fishing as one of the options government could encourage to address child labor on Lake Volta. I was shocked when a Director of fisheries, who was supposed to be the expert on fisheries methodologies, challenged me, and told the gathering that I was deceiving the participants, and that there was no such thing as bamboo fishing. It took me a combine effort of passion, display of knowledge, and persuasive prowess, to convince the gathering that Bamboo fishing existed.

These are the kinds of air-conditioned experts who will be advising you. They parade themselves with certificates, and the number of conferences they have attended, they engineer reports, but they have no on-the-ground expertise, these are people you will be forced to listen to.

My brother, I have worked for a cumulative period of seven years on that lake. I still know every single fishing method, and how to apply every single one of those methods, on that lake. I know how children are sold and bought for the purpose of driving those methods. I know the pains those working children are going through. They dive to remove trap nets, they mend nets, they remove fishes, they scoop water from the canoes, they paddle canoes, they drive outboard motors, they cast nets, they contract diseases, they are tortured, and they die.

I am not sitting in an NGO office in Winneba, postulating about child labor. The pains of these children are real. I challenge you to visit the Challenging Heights rehabilitation center, and verify for yourself the scars of torture, and you will know that man shall not live by bread alone…

By the way, I thought the documentary in question was on child trafficking? Human Trafficking is under the Ministry of Gender, right? So why would a Ministry of Employment, whose mandate does not include child trafficking, now attempt to take action on something that is clearly under the Gender Ministry?

So you see what I have been advocating for all these years, that the Child Labour Unit of the Ministry of Employment, should be lifted and placed under the Gender Minstry, that is where it belongs, child labor, it is about children, for heaven’s sake!

How can you have a child labour unit sitting under a ministry of employment, separate from a human trafficking secretariat sitting under the ministry of gender, when you know that over 80% of all victims of human trafficking in the country are children engaged in labor, do you get my point? This is the cause of the constant policy duplications and tensions between the two ministries, the recycling of the same stories.

I shall return…

James Kofi Annan