The Sunyani Circuit Court has sentenced a man and his son to five-year imprisonment terms for trafficking and exploiting six minors into fishing on the Volta Lake after a 44-month-long human trafficking trial.
The case started in February 2019 at Duayaw Nkwanta Circuit Court where the accused, both residents of Yeji Abenwaa in the Bono East Region, applied for and were granted bail. The case then moved to the Sunyani Circuit Court in April 2019 and was presided over by His Honour Sylvester Nii Okai Ablorh.
Prosecuted by State Attorneys in Sunyani, with support from International Justice Mission (IJM), the two accused were found guilty of one count of Human Trafficking contrary to Section 2(1) and (2) of the Human Trafficking Act 2005, [Act 784]; one count of using trafficked persons contrary to Section 4 of the Human Trafficking Act, 2005; and another count of Engagement of Children in Exploitative Labour contrary to Section 87 of the Children’s Act, 1998 [Act 560].
In the release dated Monday, November 7, 2022, the IJM stated that the six survivors of child trafficking are three sets of siblings. The 1st accused worked with two sets (4 children) and two siblings out of this set, were the step-grandchildren of the 1st accused. He is their grandmother’s ex-husband. The other set (a boy and a girl) had no relation to him. They were trafficked by their own father to this accused.
The third set of two siblings that worked with the 2nd accused was the 2nd accused person’s half brothers and per the reports, both accused persons had recruited the children from their families and engaged them in fishing activities that were hazardous to their health. The children were also not in school and had no medical attention to aid in their well–being and development.
The police and DSW officers with the assistance of IJM on January 31, 2019, rescued the six survivors and arrested the two boat masters at Yeji Abenwaa.
Following this, a bench warrant was issued in December 2019 for the boat masters but in March 2020, these boat masters escaped bail and were later rearrested.
During their appearance in court, the two accused persons stressed their ill health and inability to understand the Twi language since they only spoke Dangbe.
The lawyer of the accused further appealed for the adjournment of the case due to the health status of the 1st accused. The adjournment was approved to February 9, 2021, and, the accused had since not appeared in court.
Despite these interruptions, the police, state attorneys, and investigators with the support of the IJM were determined to deliver justice. According to the release, the State Attorneys “put in an application to try the case in absentia of the accused persons, and same was granted. The hearing continued till the prosecution closed its case.”
The 1st accused after the adjournment was rearrested with the support of IJM after hiding for 11 months on December 22, 2021, where he engaged the services of a new lawyer to appear in court.
Prior to the hearing, the International Justice Mission in their release indicated that the survivors had to travel 9 hours for each hearing. IJM disclosed that “many of them suffered motion sickness and they all had to miss school for many days as a result.”
Therefore, the State Attorneys applied for a virtual hearing, and was granted to lessen the trauma of the victims but the hearing tarried introducing a block trial, and this expedited the hearing process.
At the end of the case, the presiding judge, His Honour Sylvester Ablorh declared that the case was one of the saddest sentences he had ever given since some of the survivors are grandchildren of the 1st accused.
“But as the prosecution was able to establish the guilt of the accused persons beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused persons had to be punished so that other perpetrators could be deterred”, His Honour Sylvester Ablorh intimated.
However, the trial per the International Justice Mission has bridged the gaps for all subsequent block trial hearings for human trafficking and other offences as well as virtual hearings which would create an efficient and effective justice system because cases would be resolved speedily.
“This will reduce the backlog of cases,” IJM added.
Two of the survivors have been currently reunited with a relative with the other four in a private shelter who are also waiting to rejoin their families.