…As Gender Ministry Refuses To Act

An American non-governmental organization, International Justice Mission (IJM), is holding some 30 children from various communities in the Afram Plains North District hostage at an unknown location.

The sequestration began after the Gender Ministry and the police had facilitated raids in April, this year, which wrenched the victims from their parents in a fashion that is very stylistic of the infamous kidnapping of the Chibok girls by the Nigerian terror group, Boko Haram.

As the Member of Parliament for the area unites her voice with parents of the victims and town fathers of the Afram Plains to condemn the IJM, the Gender Ministry has given cold shoulders.

Sector Minister, Otiko Afisa Djaba, recently, refused to grant audience to Hon. Betty Crosby Mensah at her office, when the MP attempted to submit a petition on the issue.

While the victims remain stranded in the clutches of the IJM at an unknown location, however, the NGO is touting the hostage- taking as a success story in the fight against child labor.

In April, this year, a team of IJM volunteers, accompanied by armed police officers, stormed the Afram Plains North District and carried out swoops on a number of island communities, including Canna and Menekope.

Consequent to the swoop, some 30 children had been captured by the NGO, which claimed that the underage had been salvaged from back-breaking drudgery that contravenes international laws on child labour.

The NGO had also handed over elderly people, including parents and caretakers of the victims, alleged to be perpetrators of the child labour, to the police for prosecution..

However, the annoyed people of the Afram Plains North have since dismissed the raids by the NGO as anti-heroic and misguided by blind energy.

Togbe Mene lll, Chief of Menekope, one of the island villages, tells The Republic that the actions of the IJM insult the intelligence and dignity of his people and their traditions.

“It is very sad that the NGO did not exercise the courtesy to find out about our culture, before raiding our towns, they would have known that our traditions and practices naturally abhor child labor. They would have also known that we are not ignoramuses who do not know about the laws on child labor.”

Togbe’s position is corroborated by Hon Betty Crosby Mensah, who explains, among other things, that at the time that the NGO had swooped on the communities to supposedly rescue victims of child labor on the Volta Lake, most of the children there had been home on vacation from school.

“For IJM with the collaboration with the Gender ministry and the Ghana Police Service to have raided our people without notice whatsoever including swooping their children on the lake during a period in which our children of school going ages were on vacation, under the misconception that the children have been engaged in child labour, instead of schooling, is most unfortunate and regrettable,” Hon. Crosby Mensah said.

She lamented that if the IJM had exercised courtesy to first educate themselves about the anthropology of the Dwarf Islands of the Afram Plains, they would have realized that no rescue mission was needed.

She points out that the communities in her constituency are mostly Islands surrounded by lakes and thereby making fishing the main source of occupation and traveling by the Volta Lake, the main source of transportation.

“Due to our peculiar circumstances, our people are trained from childhood on how to swim to enable them to survive on the Island. Our people have since time immemorial trained themselves and their children to survive on the Island and have done so without any major casualties whatsoever. In fact, at a younger age of six years old, a child in our community is able to master the act of swimming in the lake under the supervision of older persons. This is because it is only at these younger ages that one is able to learn the act of swimming effectively. This is also to equip the child with the skills which enables him or her to survive on the lake in the event of any casualty while traveling on the lake from one point to the other.”

Again, she explains that a high rate of Fulani raids in the communities of the constituency, which sometimes lead to deaths and maiming, has long made it necessary for the community dwellers to take along their children on their way to the farms and fishing duties on the lake during vacations.

“Knowing the background of our people, it cannot be said that our people have engaged their children in child labour when in fact all they have done is to travel on the lake with their parents or in the company of their parents or older siblings on the lake during fishing without more.

“Indeed, as a traditional society, we have our own customs which prevent people from engaging their children in acts which seek to affect their health, development or education. In fact, children below the age of 18 years in our communities are not engaged in any acts which are deemed dangerous or hazardous in any form whatsoever,” Hon. Crosby Mensah said.

Emmanuel Donkor, Assemblyman for Foase Torganu, adds that, “Anytime you see a child on the lake with an adult they are either going to or returning from market in another community or they are attending to a family issue in another community.”

The IJM had swooped on the communities of the Afram Plains with their rescue mission in April, a well known vacation month on Ghana’s educational calendar. Apparently, the children that had supposedly been rescued by the IJM had been school children on vacation.

Efforts by The Republic to get the IJM to speak to the issue have proven futile, as emails to the NGO have not received feedback. Julie Eckert Kilcur, Senior Media Relations Manager of the IJM, whose email address, is supposed to trigger a response upon enquiry, has not replied to queries.

As the IJM hostage-taking continues to be unresolved, the whereabouts of the children, who had been captured in the swoops with gun-wielding police officers, remain unknown.

The style of the swoop, which is akin to the April 2014 kidnapping of 276 school girls from the Government Secondary School in Chibok by Boko Haram in Nigeria, has attracted condemnation from angry parents and community elders of the Afram Plains.

The chief of Menekope, Togbe Mene lll, has dismissed the hostage-taking as misguided, while the MP for Afram Plains North, Hon. Betty Crosby Mensah has described it as a mis-action carried out by people ignorant of the child protecting traditions and customs of a people.

These condemnations would, however, echo along several other condemnations that the IJM has attracted from across the world, even as its presumptive tactics have long raised questions.

In March 2003, IJM director, Gary Haugen, invited the American television show Dateline (NBC) to film a raid which it planned to conduct at a large Cambodian brothel in the village of Svay Pak. IJM operatives were equipped for the raid with pepper spray and batons.

The brothel contained approximately 40 girls and women, who were detained by Thai police. A noodle vendor, who had no involvement with the brothel, was among those who were arrested in the raid; the noodle vendor subsequently died in jail of a stroke.

A Cambodian human rights organization, LICADHO, which had reviewed the raid later said that it had told IJM about the medical predicament of the noodle vendor, but those concerns were ignored.

At least 12 of the victims “rescued” from the 2003 Svay Pak raid had later run away from the safe house to which they were taken.

Earlier in 2000, and again in 2003, IJM had instigated a raid on a karaoke restaurant in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Thai police later twice raided the establishment, arresting and subsequently deporting the women who worked there. IJM characterized the operations as successful “rescues.”

In another raid in 2001, IJM sent men undercover to a brothel, used hidden cameras and produced a 25-page document alleging specific violations of Thai law. Police raided the brothel and detained 43 female sex workers. Some of the women detained by police said that they were working voluntarily and had not wished to leave the brothel. About half the group subsequently escaped; some apparently feared deportation to Burma.

After the 2000 and 2003 raids on the Chiang Mai restaurant, the Shan Women’s Network, another NGO, had said that the raids had grossly violated the women’s human rights.

IJM organized brothel raids have also been accused of interfering with public health and HIV-prevention efforts, some of which took place at the brothels themselves. When Cambodian NGO, Empower, raised questions about the televised brothel raid in that country, IJM accused the organization of supporting pimps.

The International Union of Sex Workers has also criticized IJM’s work as being focused on Christianity, and for presenting anyone involved in sex work, coerced or not, in the role of a victim awaiting salvation.

Indeed, seemingly guided by Christian fundamentalism, the IJM, operates with a mission guided by Bible verse Isaiah 1:17 . It reads, “Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless. plead the case of the widow”.

However, the NGO operates an employment policy that restricts staff recruitments to Christians.

This situation has led to fundamental questions as to how the NGO can decide to go into non Christian communities to conduct rescue operations in the name of fighting child labor when it is so decidedly religion bias.

Some journalists have noted a link between organized “rescues” of sex workers and the garment industry. They report that women “rescued” during brothel raids are sent to NGOs for training and work in garment sweatshops, where they must deal with poor work conditions and lower pay than they earned before.

Former IJM Board member Ram Gidoomal is the head of a fair-trade, Christian-based garment company known as Traidcraft.


Source: Fiifi Samuels

The Republic News Online

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