By Francisca Emefa Enchill
SOME CALL it Modern Day Slavery because of the anguish and servitude associated with it, but to many, it is simply Human Trafficking, an avenue where non-existing richness is sought after in a foreign land with victims horribly exploited in the end.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines Trafficking in Persons “as 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 perception, of the abuse of power or of a positive 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.
“The 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.”
In spite of video evidence on social media platforms depicting extreme torture trafficked persons go through in Gulf and other countries, many more people still fall victim to the heinous crime.
For three teenagers and a 50-year-old mother of nine, and their family from the Northern part of the Volta Region, poverty has taken hold of their homes for far too long and must be defeated at all costs even at the expense of education and their lives.
Therefore, when news came that they would be travelling to Saudi Arabia soon by their benefactor, who is a relative, it was time to express joy and make merry. The dream to end poverty and embrace richness would be realized.
The four would have to be transported to Accra after being given away by their parents to be prepared to work outside the country.
Some opportunists have been taking undue advantage of the ignorance of some parents in poor communities across Ghana. They talk them into believing that there is a brighter future for their children outside Ghana and deceive them to willingly give their children away to be trafficked out of the country.
One of the teenagers, a form two Junior High School pupil (name withheld) has been ordered by his father to abandon school for a journey to the Gulf State of Saudi Arabia. She is made to join two other females who are related to the agent who happens to be her father’s friend.
Another, Mbolinye Yamba, 50, has left her six children (lost three) in the care of her family for a trip to Saudi Arabia. Her dream to make it in life will finally come true. Soon everything was ready for the four to say goodbye to their serene villages, Bonakye and Kwamekrom in the Nkwanta District of the Volta Region in Ghana.
Modus operandi of agents
To understand the modus operandi of the agents who serve as front runners in deceiving people, I visited their main ‘joint’ located within the Aflao Station, near the Ghana News Agency in Accra. I met an agent who gave his name as Kofi Moroo.
After expressing interest to travel to Saudi Arabia, he said “there are people who don’t take money; there are others who take money. There are agents who will do everything for you, but when you travel your pay will be small. The agent will discuss with the person who will be hosting you without your knowledge, so when you get there whatever is given to you is what you take. When you get there you must work for two years before you can come back to Ghana. The work is fifty-fifty, the problems are many.”
The implication is that you will be sold to someone who will be in charge of your freedom for two years.
Trip to Accra
The three victims were led by their benefactor on motorbikes from Bonakye to join the fourth person at Kwamekrom to board a vehicle for a long trip to Accra.
They arrived in Accra around 4am in mid-June, 2016. Not knowing anywhere in the capital city, they didn’t know how they got to their host at Gaskia, a suburb of Kaneshie Zongo which is also referred to as Abossey Okai Zongo by many in the Greater Accra Region.
Gaskia is a calm and organized Zongo community with very good tarred roads in every street within the community, a feature, which is not common with many Zongo communities across the country. Gaskia is about five minutes drive from Kaneshie and five minutes’ walk from Kaneshie Zongo junction.
Arrival in Accra
The victims were led to Accra by an agent identified as Ibrahim Yamba. On arrival, they were informed by Ibrahim and their caretaker, Hajia Kubra that the trip was not going to be immediate as they imagined.
They were informed by the two, who are both Muslims that they will have to wait and finish observing the Holy Month of Ramadan before they will be able to work on their documents for them to travel.
They were then introduced to a new teenage girl who from information gathered had been with Hajia, and was groomed for five months before the arrival of the three. They were informed that they were going to share same accommodation with her.
Sleeping in a container
They were taken to their temporal shelter – a container which was located two streets away from the home of Hajia. The container, according to investigations, was previously used as a tailoring shop by the daughter of Hajia who was a seamstress.
The container was painted in red, very small in size, with the space inside it almost the same as that of a Lift.
The container is kept locked at all times, whether the victims are in or out. It is always locked with a padlock outside by 7 am when they set off to the home of Hajia. After 8pm, the container remains locked without a padlock, indicating that it had been locked from inside.
There was constant heat in the container. It had a very small window and more than half the size of the window had been sealed with pieces of wood and the little space left, covered with a piece of cloth.
They slept inside the container with every source of air blocked to prevent mosquitoes and stench from taking over the small space as the container was located close to a gutter which produced mosquitoes and choking stench.
In spite of all these measures, mosquitoes still got their way in, leaving them with no option than to sleep under a treated net.
Sleeping under mosquito net in the container was very traumatizing due to the intense heat. But, this was what the victims had to endure for weeks.
I spent just 10 minutes inside the container with the victims and the experience was indeed inhuman. The temperature was discomforting.
Change of names and ages
The victims were made to understand that some few details about their lives were going to be changed; hence, they had to prepare their minds towards their new identity.
They were also told that they had to convert to Islam before the journey to Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, they were informed that per the requirements, it was not possible for them to travel to Saudi Arabia with Christian names and that their names would have to be changed to Islamic names.
They were again informed by their host that their ages would have to be changed to meet the requirement, hence, the ages of the three teenage girls were increased and that of the elderly woman, decreased.
Preparation of traveling documents began with the provision of travelling documents and as the names and ages of the victims had been changed, they required new birth certificate bearing their new personal details to enable them acquire passport. This was done successfully for the victims, according to Hajia (captured on tape).
Following the revelation, I visited the Birth and Death Registry, the institution which issues the first legal document of every individual-the birth certificate, to ask why it was so easy to acquire new birth certificates with forged personal details.
In an interview with Emmanuel Nortey Botchwey, Head of the Information Technology Department of the Registry, he disclosed that because the laws of Ghana allow adult birth registration; they are unable to block adult registrants.
According to him, the law requires adult registrants to report at the registry with baptismal cards or post-natal book (weighing card) but in many instances, registrants report there with claims that they have lost them.
Mr. Botchwey added that the registry is left with no option than to rely on declarations from relatives. He said that explains why people use false witnesses.
“When someone comes before you to tell you that this is my mother or the mother says this is my daughter, you can’t challenge them,”
Mr. Botchwey added. He also stated that when discovered, people who use forged personal details to obtain birth certificate are prosecuted and the certificate considered void.
From information gathered, it was clear that the system limits the Birth and Death Registry from playing any part in the campaign against human trafficking in Ghana.
The passport office on the other hand had little to do about the situation as they are required by law to issue passport to individuals who make their required documents available.
Hence, once the person is successful with the acquisition of a genuine birth certificate with false personal details, the possibility of leaving the country is high.
Profile of Victims
Original name withheld, is 16 years of age, a ‘form 2’ pupil (name of school withheld). She speaks English, Twi and Konkomba. Her name has been changed to Samira and age increased to 22 years.
She was informed by her father that she had to travel to Saudi Arabia. She was informed by her father that a friend of his had informed him that some ‘White People’ were in need of children to work with.
She was not given details about the trip. When it was time for her to leave the village, the friend of her father who had been identified as Ibrahim Yamba visited her family and informed her, in the presence of her parents, that she was to make a trip to Saudi Arabia where his daughter supposedly leaves and works.
According to her, Ibrahim sometime earlier informed her family that his daughter had traveled outside the country and was doing well and promised to inform Samira’s father when there was another opportunity.
Samira was made to abandon her school to embark on the trip to Accra, a city she knew nothing about, to prepare to travel to a country she knew nothing about.
Bunator Naplane, 18 years of age, she speaks only Konkomba, which is her native language. Her Christian name has been changed to Aminatu and she is now age 20.
Original name withheld, 14 years old, Christian name changed to Aisha and her age changed to 20 years. She speaks Konkomba and can’t construct any sentence in English.
She is directly related to the agent, Ibrahim. Through an interpreter, she said the only thing her father told her was that she should learn how city children behave and do their things and emulate when she travels.
According to her, she was informed by Ibrahim that the people his daughter works with are searching for more children.
Mborinye Yamba is 50 years old. She speaks only Konkomba. Her age has been slashed to 33 years and her new name is Salamatu. She is also related to Ibrahim, the agent and she and her parents were told the same story.
She is a mother of nine and has lost three of them. She has left all six children behind to embark on the trip in search of a brighter future for them. As old as she is, she is embarking on the trip because her father told her to. Her father wanted them to get out of poverty.
“When we arrived in Accra, we were asked to mention our names for them to write and we did, after that, I was told that I’m now called Salamatu, and that was what they did to each one of us.” She said through an interpreter.
After the illegal exercise, they said they were asked to rehearse their new personal details to be conversant with them to avoid fumbling when being questioned either at the Passport Office or at the Embassy and they obliged, and gave those details out in conversations with neighbors.