15 Powerful Photos of the Journey From Child Slavery to Freedom

Millions of children around the world remain trapped in child labor. Ebenezer was 6 years old when he was sent to work on Lake Volta in Ghana, a notorious hotbed of child slavery. These 15 powerful photos capture the injustice he faced … and his journey to freedom.

Welcome to the largest human-made lake in the world.

Three children on a wooden boat floating on a lake

Lake Volta in Ghana is the largest human-made lake in the world.

It is the source of life for scores of small settlements that cluster at its banks: Entire communities make their living on the boats and in the fish markets.

But hundreds of fishermen (or, more accurately, fisherboys) are not there by choice. They’re trafficked into the horrors of child labor on the lake; their families deceived, their former lives as distant as dreams.

“Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Five women in white dresses singing at church

“Child trafficking is a poverty issue,” says Henry Tetteh Amanor, director of a child development center in Ghana.

“If [you had] three children who are not in school because of lack of funds, and someone takes one away to be put into school, and even gives you money with which you can register the other two, why [wouldn’t you] do it?” he says.

“So caregivers give their children away for an amount as little as 300 cedis, about 78 U.S. dollars.”

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They can never find their way back home.

A boy in a lake holding a fish

“Sometimes, the [traffickers] name towns very close to the child’s community as the destination,” says Henry. “But in actual fact, they take [the children] very far away, where [they can never find their] way back home.”

Lake Volta’s fishing industry is a significant element of Ghana’s economy, but it’s built on the backs of vulnerable children, most of whom are younger than 10. The trafficked are given the most dangerous and difficult jobs. They’re subjected to more intense violence. They work longer hours and have their food and pay withheld.

Impoverished households are the most vulnerable to traffickers.

a young boy looks up from a small wooden boat

Households living in extreme poverty like Ebenezer’s are the most vulnerable to traffickers.

Ebenezer was just an infant when his mother died, leaving him orphaned. His grandmother, Comfort, came to collect him and take him back to her home in Greater Accra.

“I take care of nine grandchildren,” says Comfort. “Their fathers have abandoned them.”

Promises as empty as his smile.

A man holds onto the side of a boat while his body is submerged in lake water

Ebenezer was 6 years old when a man appeared at his grandmother’s house.

He owned a fishing boat, he explained. He was looking for boys to come and work on Lake Volta, to learn the ways of the fishing boats.

He promised a good job, a steady wage, enough food, a safe place to sleep.

His promises were as empty as his smile.

She would have a little more for the children who remained.

A young girl wearing blue and white clothing and a somber expression

Comfort gathered fruit and vegetables to sell at the local markets for a few dollars at a time.

“I [don’t] have the financial means to provide for [my grandchildren] the way I really want, but God gives me the energy to labor to feed them and myself.”

So when the man, a relative, offered to take three of the children to work on his fishing boat, she was torn. But they would have something to eat and somewhere to sleep, and she would have a little more for the children who remained.

She made her decision.

She let them go.

Lake Volta was made by drowning a forest.

People in a fishing boat float past treetops sticking up from the lake

For three years, Ebenezer worked the lake. He cast the nets and heaved them in until his shoulders burned and his hands cracked and bled.

The men who had created the lake had drowned a forest. When the dead trees’ fingers snagged the nets, Ebenezer dropped into the murky water to untangle the rope. As he fumbled in the dark — eyes stinging, lungs burning, panic rising — he prayed he would find his way back up, would breathe again.

That God would let him survive where so many others had not.

Ebenezer prayed for deliverance.

A young boy draped in tangled fishing net looks at the camera with a solemn expression

As the months fogged with exhaustion and slipped away, he prayed for deliverance.

“I used to sit by myself and think of my future,” says Ebenezer. “I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. I had no money for transport. I used to pray that God would help me leave that man.”

Parents love their children, but the recruiters deceive them.

A boy holds a fishing cage into the lake water as another child dives beneath the surface

Like Comfort, most caregivers who entrust their children to the lake’s embrace believe that they will live in decent conditions.

“[Parents] love their children,” says Henry. “They try their best, but the byproduct of poverty … they don’t know the consequences, because the recruiters lie to them. And when you are poor, you are vulnerable.

Many believe that learning the fishing trade will give their children skills and the opportunity for a better life.

The reality is different.

There is no other word. They are slaves.

Four Ghanaian boys sit in a wooden fishing boat with green fishing net by their feet

Trafficking is illegal in Ghana. But on the water, there is no law.

Children are routinely beaten with paddles, heavy ropes, electrical cables. Many have spoken about sleep deprivation, malnutrition, sexual assault and grievous injuries; dark testimonies of witnessing unspeakable crimes. They are deprived of medical attention, education and recreation.

There is no other word. They are slaves.

“I went to bring them back.”

An African grandmother dressed in brightly colored clothing smiles

Comfort’s fear for her grandchildren wouldn’t let her rest.

“One day … I was praying and reflecting when the thought just hit me: I did not go to school; why then will I allow my grandchildren also [to go without] school? So I went to bring them back.”

Henry explained to her that Ebenezer and his cousins could receive support through the local church and Compassion. The grinding poverty that had pushed her into her fateful decision wasn’t insurmountable.

Spurred by a fresh hope, Comfort enlisted Henry’s help and set out for the lake.

For more than three years on the lake, Ebenezer was paid just $50.

A young West African child sits in a wooden boat.

When Comfort tracked her grandson down, she wept with relief that he was still alive. When she learned of the abuse and despair he’d suffered through, she wept again.

With Henry’s support, she negotiated Ebenezer’s release.

“If not for Henry’s support to bring these children back from the Volta lake, their lives would have been destroyed,” says Comfort. “There is no hope over there.”

For more than three years on the boat, for thousands of hours of labor and heartache, for over a quarter of his life to that point, Ebenezer was paid US$50.

In the Lake Volta region, 1 in 3 children is a child laborer.

A teenage boy and a young boy sit back to back on a wooden boat floating on a lake

Ebenezer’s suffering is shared by more than 150 million children who remain trapped in child labor around the world; half of them work in extreme or hazardous conditions.

In the Lake Volta region, about 1 in 3 children is engaged in child labor — 1 in 5 in its hazardous forms.

“When I come back to the lake, I feel sad about how I’m with Compassion but so many others are not,” says Ebenezer. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to those boys … pulling in nets, not in school. I know [they’re] thinking about their friends in school.”

Once enslaved, today Ebenezer is an aspiring mechanical engineer.

A Ghanaian teenager wearing a white tank top sits on a boat smiling with blue fishing net draped over his shoulders

READ: How Does Compassion Protect Sponsored Children From Abuse?

Now in the final years of high school, Ebenezer hopes to become a mechanical engineer. He has suffered through great trauma but survived. In the years since he left the lake, he has been registered with the Compassion program, protected by his mighty grandmother, nurtured by the love of his local church, and encouraged by his sponsor, Daniel.

“I have suffered enough in my life and so I don’t want my family or my children to suffer. I want them to acquire some knowledge so they can lead a better life,” he says.

“So that children will be free, and free forever.”

An African man wearing a blue shirt stands in front of a classroom of children, teaching them

Henry continues the fight against trafficking to this day. He travels far and wide to educate parents and community leaders about the brutal reality of life on Lake Volta and the coercive methods traffickers use to prey on the innocent.

“It is the right of children to be protected,” says Henry. “More children need to be sponsored [through Compassion] so that we can empower [them] — and they, in turn, can impact others all over the country.

“So that children will be free, and free forever.”

A group of Ghanaian children wearing yellow shirts smile and laugh

Compassion works to transform the lives of individual children and encourage their long-term development through local churches like Henry’s. The Child Sponsorship Program connects one sponsor with one child living in poverty so they can invest in that child’s safety and future.

Sponsor a child in Ghana like Ebenezer and give a hope more powerful than poverty.

Sponsor a Child in Ghana today ›››

Please note: The children pictured do not work in the fishing industry. They re-created scenes of life on Lake Volta willingly and with permission.


Sources: International Justice Mission and the International Labour Organization. This article was originally published on Compassion USA’s blog on June 12, 2018, after first appearing on the Compassion Australia blog. Written by Richard Miller, photos by Helen Manson.

11 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Mardi Adkins July 31, 2020

    The story is very hard to read but has a beautiful ending. Another God’s truth in writing. Praise the lord always. He is in control and sitting on his throne. He is waiting for you to come to him and ask him to help you with whatever you need. Thank him for the good and the bad. He can teach you how to handle the bad and turn it around for good.amen

  2. Avatar
    ST July 30, 2020

    Thank you for sharing such powerful but very encouraging story that made us even to commit to what God had entrusted to us .
    thank you again and God bless you

  3. Avatar
    virginia walter July 30, 2020

    I sponsor 2 kids in South America, a boy and a girl. It is so important.

    1. Anna
      Anna July 30, 2020

      Thank you for sponsoring, Virginia! We completely agree! 💙

  4. Avatar
    Selam July 30, 2020

    Ebenezer reminded me the child of Agar who cried and his mom sat a little further so that she can not see the child dying.As the scripture says, God heard the cry of the child. My prayer, let God hear the cry of many children around the world; let God use compassion and each one of us to be his instrument! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Avatar
    Michelle Gex September 1, 2019

    I sponsor a girl in Volta, Ghana. But I never knew of these nearby circumstances. Was she in danger of this kind of life too?

    1. Sierra
      Sierra September 3, 2019

      Hi Michelle! In regards to this post specifically, because you sponsor a little girl, she would not be sought after for this specific job. The children that end up in these kinds of circumstances are boys. However, girls are still in danger of being trafficked in other ways. Thankfully, because your girl is in Compassion’s program, she is being protected and loved. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Minerva Lane August 20, 2019

    Ebenezer’s story made me teary. Sometimes fearful to read the next sentence. But, God heard his prayer and the prayers of his grandmother. Wow! How powerful is his testimony! Thank You Lord and thank you Compassion.

  7. Avatar
    Teketel June 13, 2018

    Thank you so much for sharing! It is really a wonderful story.

  8. Avatar
    Hossain naraghi June 12, 2018

    thank you very much . very nice . wonderful.
    wish you all the very best.

  9. Avatar
    Jan Bennett June 12, 2018

    Thank you for sharing this information even though it is so sad. Praise God that Ebenezer asked God to help him and God did!!!

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