Ghana: Survivor of child labour dreams of freeing others (IPS)

| February 6, 2023

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Selimatha Dziedzorm Salifu is a 25-year-old woman from the fishing village of Kpando-Torkor in Ghana. Ms. Salifu was forced into child labour at the age of seven to support her family. She worked in the local fishing industry, cutting and cleaning fish for market, even while attending school. She nearly dropped out of school due to the difficulty of purchasing food and school supplies. Then she met Andrews Tagoe, a regional coordinator for Africa of the Global March Against Child Labour, who made it his mission to assist working children. With Mr. Tagoe's help, Ms. Salifu was able to stay in school and follow her dream of becoming a teacher and helping children in need.

Selimatha Dziedzorm Salifu was born in Kpando-Torkor, a fishing village in eastern Ghana, When Ms. Salifu was just seven years old, she was forced to work in the local fishing industry. Her father had died, leaving her mother to feed, clothe, and shelter six children. The fishing industry is well-documented for child slavery and trafficking.

Ms. Salifu says: “When my daddy passed, I was drawn into child labour because mommy did not have something to take care of my siblings. She started travelling to the islands [on Lake Volta] in a canoe to buy fish, and sometimes I helped her do that, and I helped other fishmongers who were in the same business.”

She continues: “I would wake up at 4 a.m. and be there. There were a lot of children in the village, so I had to get there early so I could get customers. I found that when I would go to school, I was so exhausted, I would sleep in class, and my teachers would ask me why.” 

She was paid just one or two Ghanaian cedis a day, which was enough for some kenke (a type of bread) and a little rice. Other children were often paid with one small fish for their day’s labour handling tilapia fish, mudfish, and electric eels.

Despite her difficult journey, Ms. Salifu has held on to her day to one day be a teacher and help children like herself. 

She recalls struggling to feed herself and buy her school uniforms. She almost dropped out of school as a result. But then, Ms. Salifu says: “One day, I happened to meet this man at the river shore by my village, on the bank, going about my daily routine. I narrated my story to him, and he said he was going to talk to his team, and they would help me.”

That man was Andrews Tagoe, deputy general secretary of the General Agricultural Workers’ Union of TUC. Mr. Tagoe is also a regional coordinator of the Global March Against Child Labour.

Mr. Tagoe works in the village of Kpando-Torkor, countering child labour by educating parents about the importance of sending their children to school rather than to work.

He says, “I meet the parents in the village and the fishermen and talk about decent work and the fishing process and normal union issues.”

Mr. Tagoe made it his mission to reach out to the working children like Ms. Salifu, and began meeting with them and chatting about their lives, hopes, and dreams.

He says: “The parents said that they didn’t know the unions work with child labour. So, let’s see what we can do to start a child labour-free zone. There has been an enormous reduction in child labour, and more kids are now going to school.” 

He adds, “Since 2000, the union has helped more than 4,500 children [in Ghana] in the whole of the agricultural sector, from rice, cocoa, and palm oil to lake fishing.”

A report by a group at the University of Chicago reported that there are almost 1.6 million children involved in child labour in the cocoa industry alone in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Ms. Salifu says that Mr. Tagoe’s team helped her remain in school to follow her dream. Together, they struck up an arrangement so that she could go to school in the mornings and continue working in the afternoons to support her family.

Ms. Salifu has now completed her basic education certificate. Then, she worked for six months buying fish and selling it in nearby towns to raise money for senior high school.

She says, “Some mates my age ended up dropping out, and some had teenage pregnancies and STIs. I am very, very lucky.”

Ms. Salifu hopes that telling her story will be a voice to help those still trapped in child labour.

She says: “I think our voices should be heard here so we can go back and launch a project with our brothers and sisters so we can help them. That is my motive for being here. The dream must be achieved.”

This story is adapted from an article written by Lyse Comins published by Inter Press Service News Agency, and titled: “Child Labour Survivor Has a Dream of Freeing Others.” To read the full story, go to:

Photo: Child labour survivor Selimatha Dziedzorm Salifu (right) and Andrews Tagoe (left). Credit: Lyse Comins/IPS.