The warm waters of Lake Volta in eastern Ghana support local fishermen from the small town of Kete-Krachi, which is perched on the edge of the lake. If you were to stand upon the shore, you would see numerous wooden boats bobbing on the waters with two or three fishermen in each, trolling for the day’s catch.
The lake is where local fishermen earn a living for their families, but it is also a destination for thousands of trafficked children. Sold by their parents in exchange for food, these children work 20 hours a day casting nets. Many are forced to dive into the lake’s dangerous waters to wrestle nets free from trees; far too often, they dive in but never resurface.
Dismayed by the plight of these children, a schoolteacher in Kete-Krachi named George Achibra took action. He began to keep track of the children he saw working on the lake, befriending them and learning about their lives. One such child, 9-year old John Arthur, first learned of “Teacher George” from other local children and ran to Achibra’s house in the night to escape his master. It was in the care of Achibra and his wife that John felt as if he had “real loving parents.”
With dedication and bravery, Achibra negotiated the release of hundreds of child laborers, including John. He also founded the Partnership for Community Development, providing the children with shelter, schooling and health care after rescue. And he has raised awareness among area employers about the trafficking of children to work in the fishing industry.
That is why we honored George Achibra today with the department’s 2012 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. Through his ongoing work and leadership, Achibra has given hope for a better future to many children trafficked to work in Ghana’s fishing industry. He is an example of the incredible difference one person can make.
The Department of Labor selects a recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award annually, which honors those who have taken extraordinary steps to combat exploitative child labor wherever it exists. The award is named after a Pakistani child who was sold into slavery at age 4, escaped at 12 and became an outspoken public advocate against child exploitation, even helping free other children from slavery. If you know someone who has made a real difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable children, I invite you to submit a nomination for next year’s award.
Learn more about the Iqbal Masih Award and efforts by the department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs to combat exploitative child labor at www.dol.gov/ilab. To subscribe to updates about the Iqbal Masih Award, send an email to email@example.com.
Carol Pier is the acting deputy undersecretary of the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.