When Godwin was in his mid-teens, a nightmare unfolded that would disrupt his academic dreams, steal him away from his family, and leave him fearing for his life: he was trafficked into Ghana's fishing industry.
It all started innocently enough. Godwin was living with his Aunt Jessie, who helped send Godwin to school as his parents couldn't afford the costs. Godwin, a highly intelligent young man, loved school and was passionate about his studies. So when a woman turned up during the school holidays claiming to be a member of his extended family, with the offer of taking him on a trip to see extended family and purchase schoolbooks, it sounded like an exciting promise.
The reality turned out to be very different. As the days went on, Godwin started to grow anxious that he wouldn't be back home in time for term to start. But the woman insisted that they keep travelling. She brought him to the home of a fisherman on Lake Volta – the largest manmade lake in the world, stretching over hundreds of miles of flooded forest. When he woke up the next morning, the woman had disappeared, leaving Godwin miles from home and with no way to contact his family. He realised the awful truth: she had sold him.
Godwin was forced by the fisherman into hard, dangerous work: rising before dawn to untangle fishing nets beneath the lake's surface. It was a risky task, as it's easy to become tangled beneath the surface – sadly, some children trafficked onto Lake Volta do not survive.
And child trafficking is not just a Ghanaian problem. Around the world today, around 10 million children are trapped in modern slavery. This takes many different forms: from children forced to work in industries such as agriculture and fishing, like Godwin, to children sexually abused online for the financial gain of their traffickers.
Shockingly, the pandemic is creating even greater vulnerability. With children out of school during lockdowns, they lack some of their usual safeguards, as teachers are less able to spot signs of trafficking. And families are increasingly vulnerable to the deceit and coercion of traffickers, who take advantage of the desperate needs of people in poverty. The World Bank predicted that an additional 150 million people would be driven into extreme poverty by 2021 – and traffickers are looking to profit from this.
But the good news is that this is preventable. Communities and authorities around the world, when they're empowered and equipped to do so, can stop child trafficking – and the global church has a unique role to play. IJM's teams partner with local authorities and organisations in places where child trafficking is prevalent, to invest in systems that can prevent and detect trafficking – and bring trafficked children to safety.
And we believe that churches have a key role to play in preventing trafficking and supporting survivors, because of the integral place of churches within community life – and because, as Christians, we're called to protect the vulnerable and follow God's heart for justice.
And this is still true even during the pandemic. In Ghana, for example, IJM's team has been able to travel from island to island on Lake Volta – the lake where Godwin was held - delivering training to equip pastors to share with their congregations about child trafficking, enabling them to help put an end to the issue in their communities. And in the Philippines, our team has seen churches come together to help survivors of child trafficking rebuild their lives, providing shelter and educational support.
Three years ago this month, Godwin was found by Ghanaian police, supported by IJM. What he did next was remarkable: he chose to supply information to police about other trafficking victims still being held on the lake, and insisted on returning to help identify them. These courageous actions led to the rescue of 29 other trafficking victims, including Godwin's own half-brother. Today, he's reunited with his family and back in school, where he's studying to become a doctor.
Godwin chose to use his freedom to bring freedom to others - and IJM is urging Christians in the UK to join him, and global church partners, in doing the same. He asked us to share his story in the hope that other children would be free.
Please help make Godwin's dream of freedom for others a reality and give to our #StopChildTrafficking campaign, which raises funds for our global teams to work alongside local authorities and communities to bring freedom to victims. Or share our BBC Radio 4 appeal, presented by rapper and author Guvna B – which will be broadcast live on Radio 4 on Thursday 26 May at 15:27.
Please join as, together, we build a world where child trafficking is stopped for good. We would love to invite you to be a part of this story.
International Justice Mission is a global organisation that protects people in poverty from slavery and violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 24 communities in 14 countries to combat slavery, violence against women and children, and police abuse of power against people in poverty. IJM works with authorities to bring victims to safety, provide trauma-informed care to survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems. Learn more at IJMUK.org.