Challenging Heights rescues trafficked children

The plight of trafficked children can be dehumanising as some of  them are exposed to torture, rape and various forms of abuse that are life threatening, making them experience emotional and psychological trauma. Officials working against child trafficking say some trafficked children are sometimes sold for between GH¢20 to GH¢80 by their own parents, including their own mothers.

Children as young as four and those aged up to 17 years are victims of trafficking, with the boys engaged in fishing while the girls smoke fish and suffer sexual exploitation. Some of them suffer diseases and deformities without any medical care and the conditions they work under is appalling. Vision and experience

Out of his experience and the vision to save trafficked children from the worse form of abuse, Mr James Kofi Annan, a victim of child trafficking, set up the Challenging Heights (CH), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which rescues and reunites children with their families and also helps them access education.

He took the step with the aim of rescuing children trafficked to engage in fishing on the Volta Lake and to advocate the enrolment of more children in school.

Set up in 2005, the NGO has facilities in 16 districts and 40 communities in Central and Brong Ahafo regions.

It also organises sensitisation programmes to educate members of the communities on the dangers of child trafficking and to address the root causes of the problem. Road to escape

Sharing his experience on how he started, Mr Annan said as the youngest of 12 children, his family sent him to work on the Volta Lake at age six. “The experience was very daring, very agonising and very demeaning and we worked from 3 a.m. until evening,” he said.

He could not get in touch with anybody but after seven years, he escaped to his home town, near Winneba, where his father refused to take care of him.

However, he got educated while fishing and farming, and with the help of government loans, Mr Annan was able to acquire  university education. 

The breakthrough for Mr Annan came in 2002, when he got a job at Barclays Bank in Accra, as a direct sales manager for five years.

“To ensure that more children do not go through what I went through, I decided to work during weekends in my home community to raise awareness about trafficking,” he said.

He left the bank and currently runs Challenging Heights on full time basis with the  determination that no child experiences what he went through. “Education is number one. For me, it is what made all the difference,” he said. Rehabilitation project

The organisation is running a 65-capacity rehabilitation centre for children rescued from slavery.

“We carry out continuous survivor rehabilitation and recovery programme,” Mr Annan said.

The project includes providing counselling, functional literacy programmes, health care and human rights education at our rehabilitation centres before the rescued children are reintegrated into their families.

During the process, he said, the children were interviewed and through their own sketches, and search by the organisation, they were able to trace their families and establish contacts with them.

The organisation also engages in women’s empowerment project, which seeks to provide micro-lending and programme for alternative livelihoods support  for mothers within the communities where the organisation operates. School project

The organisation has three school projects under which it runs normal school, remedial programme and evening school. The schools have libraries and ICT centres to enhance teaching and learning.

According to Mr Annan, the remedial school supports young people aged 16 to 24 go through remedial lessons, and this enables them to pass their examination and move to the next level of education.

Mr Annan urged parents in the community to encourage their children to go to school while calling on the government to make efforts to ensure that every child goes to school. He also urged the government to resource the police service to help them rescue more children from child slavery. Commendation from US envoy

The United States of America Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Gene Cretz, during a visit to the facility last week, commended Challenge Heights  for its commitment to provide education for children rescued from slavery.

He described the organisation’s work as inspiring and motivating and added that the canker of child trafficking must be stopped because it was the worst form of child abuse.

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