Archives For Advocacy

Throughout the years that we’ve been rescuing and rehabilitating survivors of modern slavery on Lake Volta, we’ve heard stories and accusations of forced marriage and child marriage occurring in the fishing communities on Lake Volta. Last year, we received funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives to take a closer look at this issue and use our findings to educate the communities about what we learned.

To better understand the issue of child marriage and how it related to trafficking, it helps to start with understanding child marriage in a global context. An estimated 700 million women were married as children plus 22 million girls who are married. An estimated 280 million girls are at risk of being married before they are 18 and 15 million girls are married each year. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of girls in marriage has been declining, however because of population growth, the number of girls at risk is not changing. Even if the current efforts were sustained, the total number of at-risk girls would remain the same for another 30 years.

In light of that reality, more must be done to understand and combat the problems of child marriage, particularly in Ghana where 27% of women were married before they were 18. Based on interviews with children we have rescued, members of our shelter team and community leaders in Winneba and communities along Lake Volta, a better understanding of the relationship between child trafficking and child marriage came into view. This allows us to help increase the efforts at raising awareness of child marriage as it pertains to our work.

Our research found a couple of key points. While many traffickers deceive the families of the children who are trafficked by promising school and housing, when pressuring the girls into marriage similar deception techniques are used. The girls are told by their masters to marry a man who will provide for them and their parents, often in exchange for some money. The other key point is that many adolescents, both boys and girls, are effectively encouraged to participate in sexual relationships. When the girls become pregnant as a result of these relationships, then they are forced into marriage.

We also were able to identify some of the main causes that lead to child marriage. They include broken homes, poverty, child labour, high illiteracy rates and the social norms. It should be noted that many of these causes are interrelated and often overlap with the root causes of child trafficking.

We’re using what we’ve learned from this research to conduct sensitisations with adolescents in the community and parents of school children. We’re also planning to work with the media and other stakeholders to share the findings, so that everyone can better understand child marriage and what leads to it and how to address it.

If you’d like to read the research, you can download it here.

_dsc1058Earlier this year, Family for Every Child released the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration, which Challenging Heights had a part in producing. In September, we hosted a workshop for the policymakers, with the intent to share knowledge with the people who are setting the direction of government policies and major organisations within Ghana. Last week, we met with the practitioners to share the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration with those who are on the ground and doing the work of reintegrating children.

The workshop, organised by our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah, was attended by 34 people from 26 different organisations, ranging from other anti-trafficking NGOs to members of the Department of Social Welfare to community members and traditional councils. We presented them with the guidelines as a tool to use when reintegrating children that have been separated from their families, particularly by being trafficked.

Bismark, representing Free the Slaves, sharing his thoughts on the Guidelines on Children's Reintegration.

Bismark, representing Free the Slaves, sharing his thoughts on the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration.

The participants participated in a lively discussion around the guidelines, determining how to best implement them in their individual work and how to collaborate with the other organisations in the room better. Everyone was committed to working together to combat trafficking and modern slavery, the question became how to best work with each other to achieve that goal.

The Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration were developed by Family for Every Child, a network of organisations around the globe committed to protecting children’s rights. They were created with help of 14 different organisations and agencies, and endorsed by 14 more, through interviews and and input from 127 individuals, including children themselves. The dissemination of these guidelines was supported by Family for Every Child.

As a part of the launch of the Children’s Reintegration Guidelines from Family for Every Child, Challenging Heights called together policy makers and influencers from across various sectors to present the guidelines and collaborate on how to implement the guidelines.

Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, giving opening remarks for the workshop.

Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, giving opening remarks for the workshop.

“What we want to do is improve the effectiveness of getting children back into their families,” Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, said.

The attendants of the workshop included representatives from UNICEF, Mercy Project, Free the Slaves, Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare (DSW), Ghana’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), Ghana’s Criminal Investigation Department for the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the International Organisation for Migration and the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives who all have a connection to reintegrating children with their families and communities after being separated because of both emergency and non-emergency situations. There was a desire among the participants to create a standard to be used by all agencies that do reintegration, ensuring that all children receive a high standard of care, and these guidelines aim to inform that standard.

Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager, explains the main points of the Children's Reintegration Guidelines.

Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager, explains the main points of the Children’s Reintegration Guidelines.

“These guidelines were developed because there are millions of children separated from their families, and as families break down, so does society,” Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager at Challenging Heights said.

The Children’s Reintegration Guidelines were developed by Family For Every Child, an international coalition of civil society organisations that aim to improve the lives of vulnerable children, using research, pooled knowledge and consultations with 158 children, 127 service providers and 66 agencies. The guidelines have been endorsed by UNICEF and 30 other organisations that address the well-being of children around the world.

These new international guidelines are broadly in line with forthcoming policy regarding children’s reintegration from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, according to Idduh Abdallah from UNICEF. Representatives from DSW concurred and stressed the importance of adapting the guidelines to a local cultural context and to support the new policy.

The participants ended the workshop with a greater understanding of the guidelines and a desire to ensure that the policy is inline with these new international standards, wanting to create a set of tools to ensure that the guidelines are easy to follow on the ground and suggestions on how to strengthen partnerships across sectors.

Challenging Heights is a non-governmental organisation based in Winneba that is dedicated to ending child trafficking and forced labour through social justice interventions and protecting children’s rights since 2007.

Challenging Heights School is now Friends International Academy! We are building on our success and responding to the needs of our community by broadening the scope of our commitment to children’s rights to education. The success of Challenging Heights School over the last ten years has set it apart as a leader in education in Winneba and allows it to stand on its own. As our community’s needs change and develop, we will continue to adapt with quality and innovative responses.

_dsc9224We’re turning our attention to supporting children’s education throughout Winneba and beyond, particularly by spreading the message that corporal punishment has no place in schools and working with teachers so that they can learn alternative discipline methods. Last week, in preparation for the new school year, our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah convened the teachers of Friends International Academy for a facilitated discussion about the use of corporal punishment in schools.

Many of the teachers, while having taught at Challenging Heights School which has a prohibition on using corporal punishment, were not totally convinced that giving up caning is the best avenue for teachers. Some teachers were hoping to find exceptions to the rule and felt that teachers are powerless against behavioural issues without a cane.

_dsc9227To begin the workshop, these teachers discussed their memories of school and how so often it was the actions of a teacher that determined whether it was a good memory or a bad memory. They discussed what makes a school safe and secure for children and came to the realisation that it is more than just the facilities that a school has that makes a school safe environment for children.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants discussed the differences between punishment and discipline and where corporal punishment falls in those categories. After examining the development traits and stages of children, they brainstormed appropriate discipline techniques for each age group.

The teachers came away feeling empowered to employ different discipline techniques, rather than feeling restricted by an anti-corporal punishment policy. They came to the conclusion through the discussions that caning doesn’t change the children and that it’s not the only solution for teachers to employ.

As we broaden our focus of the educational rights of children throughout Winneba and beyond, we’ll be bringing this training to other teachers in the area. Children have a right to feel safe and secure in their schools and we look forward to working with other teachers to make this a reality for the children of our community.

Last week was a major step forward for our Advocacy Officer, Akua Duah, and her anti-corporal punishment campaign. She, along with numerous stakeholders from five regions in Ghana attended a workshop sponsored by UNICEF and the Ghana government to work through the issues that surround the use of corporal punishment in Ghana.

IMG_4646The workshop began with the participants defining what it meant for a school to be safe. The regional directors for the Ghana Education system, guidance and counselling representatives, head teachers, a clinical psychologist and the police all agreed that school safety goes beyond just the physical structure of the school and includes how children are treated there. They were able to come to the conclusion on their own that the use of corporal punishment undermines school safety.

The workshop then went on to challenge some of the participants beliefs about the use of corporal punishment. At the beginning, the participants all agreed that beating children is not acceptable, but many were not convinced that banning corporal punishment was the appropriate action for schools in Ghana. Many argued that corporal punishment should be used, but moderately and only by certain staff members at the school. After watching videos of the caning in practice at schools in Ghana and hearing from students, it became clear to the participants that the idea of what “moderate” means when it comes to using corporal punishment is entirely subjective and that there is no real way to place any kind of regulation on the severity of physical punishment.

Finally, the participants then were led to question why they believed that corporal punishment should be used. Through discussing a variety of other discipline techniques and reward based systems, the stakeholders came to understand that there are a number of other tools at their disposal when it comes to disciplining children and working to reinforce positive behaviour. After examining their underlying beliefs about physical discipline and its alternatives, the participants came to the conclusion that the main reason they felt that corporal punishment should be used is because corporal punishment was used on them as children, and furthermore, they agreed that is not a compelling reason to continue to use corporal punishment.

We are looking forward to the opportunity to work with these other leaders and educators to help change the culture surrounding corporal punishment in Ghana.