They're heart-wrenching to hear -- but the stories unearth an ongoing epidemic into one of the largest injustices in the world: Slavery. It continues in the U-S... and in third world countries -- it's become the norm. The founder of a local organization has found himself fighting a battle inside one of the largest child trafficking rings in the world, in Ghana, Africa.
As a result of fundamentally stark levels of poverty, families across West Africa are plagued with an unimaginable situation: sell their children to someone who promises a better future or watch their children starve to death. As the largest manmade lake in the world -- Lake Volta has is home to a very lucrative fishing industry, but the fishing industry has a very dark and dangerous side that's overflowing with child slaves. Tonight -- a 16-year-old child slave who's been sold on more than one occasion -- shares her stories from the lake.
"When you grew up as a fisherman and you have one skill and that is to fish, it doesn't seem that crazy that when you become of age, you're going to keep fishing,” said Chris Field, Mercy Project Founder. “And the way you fish in Ghana is by buying small kids.”
Even in Ghana -- kids dream up big stories and visions of hope.
“I want to be a nurse,” said Ruth, a 16-year-old who says she can’t even count how many times she’s been trafficked in and out of the Village of Adovepke.
But for whatever reason these children and teens were sold in the first place -- their life here on the lake -- is far different than originally promised.
“It doesn't matter if you are sick or not, or if you cry or not, you will have to adhere to the instructions of your master,” said Ruth. “We just have to pull the nets until our master tells us to stop and if we don’t adhere, my master will pretend as if nothing is wrong and then at dawn he will beat me.”
Ruth doesn’t have any brother’s or sister’s to turn to in the village of Adovepke; a village that’s virtually and according to any map News 3 has ever researched – it virtually doesn’t exist.
Ruth is all alone.
According to the chief of the village, there are 300 to 400 people living inside the village of Adovepke; out of that number at least 100 are kids. But if you take a closer look; anywhere from 30 to 50 are children who are bought and sold into slavery."
"Some do know how to swim, but not all of the children,” explained Ruth. “In my case, my master will tie a rope around my waste and dump me into the water. When he tells me to go fishing with him, I get afraid. I'm very afraid.”
Ruth went on to explain how she saw the masters pull the body of a lifeless boy out from the lake who had drowned three days before.
“He got entangled in the nets and died,” said Ruth. “I remember the name; he was called Richard and we were always playing together. Mostly when I sleep, I dream as though I've seen him around me. In my dreams he is smiling at me."
It's the stories like Ruth's that became the catalyst of the Mercy Project.
"Until you actually do a rescue, you're hoping and dreaming and you've got an idea that you hope works, but until you walk out of the village with those kids, there’s no way to be able to say, 'yea, this is what we've been doing for two years."
Nicole: “You’ve spent two years inside this village, Why is it so critical to build relationships?
"We told you from the first time we came here, we want to do economic empowerment for this community," said Field to a
“The one constant we receive in Ghana is that in every village we go to, they're not catching enough fish,” explained Field. “The lake is over-fished and every fisherman knows that and they just don't know what else to do and they don't have the means or the creativity to come up with new ideas.”
Field and his team introduced the idea of aquaculture; or more affectionately known as “cage fishing.”
“Cage fishing is such a more efficient process than their current methods of fishing and in the end it becomes less practical, less efficient and less economically viable to own the children then it is to not own the children,” explained Field. “So we've given them that economic incentive -- but we've let them be a part of the process.”
It's a challenging journey that has taken time – but the rope of grace is still holding strong -- and according to Field – he’s not letting go until slavery falls off the edge of its very own extinction.”
There are an estimated 7,000 trafficked children living on Lake Volta. Although it varies from child to child -- many are sold for as little as 20 U.S. Dollars; I've even heard one master explain how one 12-year-old boy’s family traded him for a cow.
Wednesday night at 10 we'll hear directly from the slave masters and find out whether or not they plan on freeing the trafficked children.