ACCRA, Ghana – Police in Ghana have rescued 116 children who had been trafficked to work as forced labourers in the fishing industry along the country’s Volta Lake area, in an operation coordinated by INTERPOL which also resulted in 28 arrests and convictions. The rescued children were aged between 5 and 17.
Some 80 Ghanaian law enforcement officers participated in Operation Bia II (6-13 May) during which police teams simultaneously targeted selected fishing communities believed to be using illegal child labour. Officers from INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Accra joined the operation, which also involved specialist officers from INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon. The children were taken into care following the operation which received support from the health, immigration and social affairs ministries, in addition to non governmental organizations and social workers.
The 28 individuals arrested during the operation were sentenced to 16 months imprisonment each after the accused pleaded guilty to exposing children to danger and engaging minors in hazardous activities. The operation revealed that 15 of the rescued children had been trafficked from other regions of Ghana.
“The success of Operation Bia II in identifying and rescuing children who were being forced to work in exploitative conditions is a robust start in identifying, disrupting and dismantling such activities and will lead to hundreds more children being saved,” said Jon Eyers, Assistant Director of INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings unit.
“Operation Bia II clearly shows what can be achieved through the co-ordination of resources and the delivery of a multi-faceted capacity building and operational strategy to assist national police in protecting children from trafficking and exploitation”, added Mr Eyers.
With INTERPOL having previously coordinated Operation Bia in Cote d’Ivoire, Operation Cascades in Burkina Faso and Operation Bana in Gabon – resulting in the rescue of hundreds of children from human trafficking and forced labour – Operation Bia II is part of a series of such operations aiming to rescue children and to carry out awareness campaigns on these issues across this region of Africa.
In this respect, the Director of the Ghana Police Service Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, Patience Quaye, described Operation Bia II as ‘a call to action’.
“Operation Bia II is a wake-up call for everybody in the country. The government, law enforcement, and partners across all sectors need to come together and collaborate as one to prevent children from being exploited by individuals who are violating their human rights,” said Ms Quaye.
Prior to Operation Bia II, training workshops were organized by the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, in conjunction with officers from INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Accra and INTERPOL headquarters in Lyon, to ensure that officers for the operational phases were trained in a range of skills including specialist interview techniques specific to human trafficking investigations.
A separate operation across Accra City also saw officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies and social services interview 120 sex workers to determine if they were part of a wider human trafficking network operating in Ghana. As a result 29 of these were found to be minors who were being sexually exploited and were taken to shelters and housed by local social services, with separate investigations continuing on the human trafficking networks involved in these operations. Capacity building initiatives also took place at Accra International Airport, with training given to border security officials on identifying and interdicting human smuggling activities.