Eric is 8 years and his brother, Kofi, is 6 years. Despite being poor they once lived a moderate life with both parents by the sea in Winneba, Ghana. Although their parents could not afford to send them to school they were hopeful that their small business would, one day, yield enough income so that they could give their children a taste of quality education. This was very crucial to them especially when their four older siblings did not have opportunity go to school.
The story of these children, however took a turn for the worse when their father died two years ago. Their mother was put under pressure, by extended family to organize a funeral for her late husband. She could not afford the cost of the funeral and was forced to borrow GHS500 ($290). Following the funeral, the lender gave her one month to pay the debt. Now as a single parent, supporting six children, she was unable to meet the deadline. The lender therefore suggested that to repay the loan with interest gained, two of her children could work for a fisherman on Lake Volta for 5 years. Kofi and Eric were selected from the family to serve the lender turned trafficker. In order to support the rest of the family the mother had little choice but to see Kofi and Eric be taken away. It was 12 hours by road and then many hours by canoe, until the young boys were handed over to their slave master, in his village on the remote shores of Lake Volta. As fishing slaves the boys were forced to work 16 hours most days and deprived adequate food and shelter. They faced hazard working conditions where death through drowning was only the next forced dive to untangle nets away, ongoing psychological torment and handed regular beatings.
During one of Challenging Heights’s rescue mission on Lake Volta this year Kofi and Eric were identified on a small fishing boat. The team engaged the boat at 2pm. On investigating, the boys revealed that work had commenced at 4am and neither had been given any food. They were naked and very weak after working for a long period. With approval for the Department of Social Welfare the team took custody of the children and ended their two year ordeal as fishing slaves.
“At long last we can go back to our mother; escaping this slave master and all his cruel treatment,” says, Kofi, who along with his brother Eric is undergoing an intensive rehabilitation program before being reintegrated with their mother. Kofi emphasizes the cruelty of life as a fishing slave on Lake Volta, “even if our mother is dead too, we would prefer staying with aliens like Challenging Heights than remaining in bondage.” Currently the boys are receiving intensive psychological and behavioral therapy, as well as undergoing comprehensive medical treatment. The boys are also receiving their first taste of education; undergoing an intensive tutoring program that will allow them to soon enter the mainstream education system. The boys will soon be reintegrated with their mother, who has received seed capital to ensure that she can provide for her children. As well as ongoing monitoring, the boys will be supported to ensure that they are in school.
On rescue, Kofi and Eric had served 2 of the 5 years as fishing slaves. It is unlikely that the children would have been returned to their mother once the agreed timeframe was reached. The traffickers commonly renew the contracts with food items, clothes and minute items to keep the children in debt bondage.