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How CNN reported on 'child slaves' who were not really enslaved

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19.03.2019

On March 1, CNN aired a video report titled, Freeing the child slaves of Lake Volta, which followed a succession of similar "docufictions" and publications alleging the existence of pervasive child trafficking and child slavery in fishing communities along the Lake Volta in Ghana.

We (two academics who have studied this issue critically and carried out extensive interviews with members of Lake Volta communities and a member of parliament whose constituents overwhelmingly live on and around the lake) deem it critical to set the record straight as this is a complex social issue which needs careful analysis rather than melodrama and sensationalism.

The allegations of child trafficking and child slavery, which are mostly made by Western-based or funded journalists and NGOs with the help of local affiliates, reflect a limited understanding of the lived realities on islands and communities along the lake. Fishing is one of the few guaranteed avenues of subsistence for islanders and residents of riverine communities along the Lake Volta, and children are rightly taught fishing skills by their parents.

The lake also serves many important functions for these communities. Virtually all economic and social activities take place on or around it. It is not only the main source of employment, but it is also the highway which connects islands, a playground for children, a marketplace, etc. It is, therefore, not unusual to find children fishing, commuting by boat to other islands or simply playing with their peers and siblings on the Lake Volta. Outsiders or those unfamiliar with this fundamental social set-up can wrongly translate the sight of a child in a boat with an adult as a child being exploited or forced to work.

We acknowledge that not all children on the islands and riverine live or work with their biological parents. However, this is not because of rampant sale or trafficking of children, as CNN and others have suggested.

The extended family system is still highly valued in Ghana as it remains integral to the social welfare system. It is, therefore, entirely normal to find children living with non-biological parents or guardians who can offer........

© Al Jazeera