Middle East/Africa

Culture and Human Trafficking in Ghana

Society has created us solely and wholly for maintaining its continuity and status quo. As such, one of the means by which culture in every society is preserved is to create it. But culture, which represents a complex whole of knowledge, beliefs, customs, laws, discourses, material expressions, behaviors, values and symbols, and over time, expresses the continuities and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held in common, has in its reverence become a clandestine for the operation of human trafficking in most African countries.

In Ghana, the country is composed of diverse ethnic groups such as the Akans, Mole-Dagbon, Ewes, Guans and others. Each ethnic group has its own and unique cultural practices, from family through marriage to childbirth and upbringing. The differences have made it possible for trafficking patterns to differ within the country. Practices that are culturally right for one ethnic group may be culturally wrong for another group. In as much as cultures have been the bedrock for discipline in the Ghanaian society, some Ghanaians under the cover of this same culture traffic their family members. As some of them deliberately assume responsibility in a way to traffic them, others traffic their members unknowingly – only the intention of shirking away responsibilities.

In the north, boys are seen as an asset whereas girls liability. Some parents therefore take the advantage of early marriage in their culture to shirk away responsibility by giving their children off to marriage. They, the parents, do not look beyond the immediate relieve they are going to get. The cycle goes on, paving way for children to be the highest risk victims in trafficking through culture. Poverty has played its perfect role on society, making it possible for early and forced marriages tolerable in some cultures. Early and forced marriage occurs before a person reaches the age of consent eighteen years. Usually it happens to girls whose consent is mostly not sought.

The endorsement of polygamy as a “valued system” has made matters worse. The practice is most evident in the rural areas. It has contributed to what Hayase and Liaw refer to as the “…explosive population growth…”, as children from these homes are often the most at threat. They are predisposed to malnutrition, financial difficulty, high illiteracy rate and, early and forced marriage.

Lawyer Hans Adde from the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) in Ghana said, “there is a cultural conception of who a child is and for what he/she has been brought into the world: in most traditions, childbirth is obligatory but child maintenance is optional”. In harmony with many people, children are to be use in any way that will bring benefit to the parents. A typical example is what happens in the village of Asuhyiae of the Ahafo Ano North District in the Ashanti region. Parents with respect towards their ward’s teacher would go to them for permission to aid them take their ward to the farm even though school is in session. Some parents even take their wards out of school for a whole week or two especially when it is time for them to harvest their farm produce.

Since the entire family shares any loss of honor, members do not abhor to the act but attribute it to the high cost for labor. To protect the face of the family, each do act with decorum at all times to ensure that he/she is not the cause of any embarrassment for the family.

It is important to note that, human trafficking does not exist in the Ghanaian cultural vocabulary. More so, it is absent in the Ghanaian cultural conceptualization. This is due to the culture of poverty and socialisation of how family is perceived and the responsibilities of members in the family. Culture should therefore, be a way of coping with the world by defining it in detail as traditions.