September 6th, 2011
08:22 PM ET

Despite death threats, activists continue mission to bring kids better life

Emmanuel Otoo is a man with a simple message: Poverty is not a reason to sell children into slavery.

For many people, that's a pretty obvious sentiment. But if you come from Otoo's background, it's easy to see why he would say that. He's the Ghana Director for the non-profit group Free the Slaves, and it's his mission to make parents understand that selling their children isn't going to bring anyone a better life.

Otoo has a lot to be thankful for, and he mostly credits his mother for not making the choice that so many families around him in Ghana made when he was a child.

"We observe a lot of situations currently where out of poverty, out of need, out of desire to give their children the basic necessities, parents tend to traffic their children - give them out or sell them out," he told CNN. "So I compare this to our relationship with our mother that in spite of the difficult times, in spite of the lack, the need, and the want, she did not give us out. She could've done that, but she did not."

Otoo's mother kept the family together, and he went on to college, majoring in sociology and earning a master's degree in business administration. But instead of taking his education and moving away, Otoo stayed where he felt he was needed most - in the heart of some of the worst areas for trafficking in his country. One of the sites is Lake Volta, where he documents child slavery in the fishing industry.

"Children are put on canoes, they work long hours. And to help you understand long hours - long hours is over 12 hours. Some work 16 hours," he said. "And they perform various forms of activities, from casting nets to dragging nets, emptying water in the boat, and diving deep into the water to disentangle nets. Children dive into the water and some of them do not return again. That is the last time some of them are seen."

Ghana Director Emmanuel Otoo at work on Lake Volta

It is dangerous work to fight a practice that can be very profitable for the traffickers. But the peril means nothing to Otoo, who is driven in part by his two young children.

“The danger is there, we receive death threats, people who don't like what we're doing. Others come up to you and actually warn you to stop doing what you're doing," he said. "But my motivation is the fact that I would've ended up as one of the people who was enslaved so if I am lucky to escape, I believe that I have a huge responsibility to contribute all that I can within me to make sure that this unacceptable practice ends.”

Otoo is one of several directors working in seven countries for Free the Slaves. The directors conduct research, provide education and bring together community groups from other non-profits, churches and schools. They're not just trying to free slaves - though that is their obvious goal - but they say making sure the community can make a change is the foundation for ending slavery.

"You meet families who are not rich families, don't have cars to drive in or other things, but they have their families back," said Otoo. "They have their children back, and they sit happily, chat, eat and give the children opportunity to play. And that is a success story for me."

Free the Slaves has headquarters just outside of Los Angeles and in Washington. They are one of hundreds of non-profit groups fighting human trafficking, and they bring these groups together every year for what co-founder Peggy Callahan calls "the largest anti-slavery gathering in the world." Their annual Freedom Awards honor people working to free slaves, handing out awards ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 for the recipient's organization

The group also documents anti-slavery work done around the world, to show others that the fight can be won.

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soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Carla

    True heroes. Rescue effort has price tugs. May God bless him and protect him!

    September 7, 2011 at 2:15 am | Reply
    • Emmanuel Otoo

      Thank you very much Carla

      September 7, 2011 at 10:20 am | Reply
      • weeman17

        Good luck man!!! Be safe and keep up the hard work!!!

        September 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  2. Carla

    Grown-ups should live for the well-being of kids by all cost. Our parents lived that way sacrificially and brought us blessings and protection. We already had our share of life but kids haven't. We also much teach kids what is right and wrong according to Christianity. Freedom and rights work only with moral people.

    September 7, 2011 at 2:31 am | Reply
  3. Ekow Tachie Ephraim

    This is a good story. And something we all should learn from.

    September 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  4. Patrice

    I was in college with Emmanuel and he has always been the silent and diplomatic crusader on anti-slave issues! No wonder he has been such a success! He,together with the Ghana Police and the Ministry of women and children affairs, secured successful prosecutions and convictions of such miscreants! Ghana says AYEKOO to him!

    September 8, 2011 at 3:25 am | Reply
  5. holySam

    a question not exactly commenting the subject:

    using an older PC with low cpu capacity, no windows and almost no software except a browser (and being no IT freak)
    *** I cannot view Videos ***
    *** and esp. no videos in Flash or other fashion software, changing versions almost every week now ***

    Would it be possible (and that concerns most News Providers) to get these Flash News - like above - in a simple mp4 STANDARD VIDEO FORMAT, downloadable to view them later, without the browser activity heating the cpu?
    Would be a great thing!
    An maybe that would be an active support and help, for the One-Child-One-PC project, too!
    (they have no hyper cpu capacity either, nor memory excess, as I know)
    thank you

    September 9, 2011 at 2:39 am | Reply
  6. holySam

    ... and a question right on the subject: this page relates on slavery as a certain form of "work" (under slavery conditions, but still "work" with "workresults" and non-self-determination)
    1. are not (the more) HARD WORKING "jobs" MOST effective in DESTROYING climate, environment and RESOURCES every minute for 300 years now? Industrialization was good for having shoes, clothes, food, room(temperature) but presently all that begins destroying existence of Human Beings itself.
    2. is not most ("job", but not only "job"-) work just for having killed (life)time?

    I found an example - a friendly but still pointing example 🙂 - on the page
    at the "Volunteer of this year" pledge / survey (near the top of the page, there) ...

    the question there is "would you pledge to spend 11 hours of Volunteering this year?"
    (and there is only a "yes" option)
    (of course, a "no" option makes no sense)
    (but yes clicks are not compared to clicks on that page: leaving the page without yessing is a no, isntit?)

    so, how astonishing, viewing the results brings up 100% support of the idea.

    now, most "job"work" is on that very same level (but still abuses resources and wastes energy and destroys environments, from morniing stress at home, over commuting, to office maintenance etc.)

    should not we be happy about everyone who satisfies himself with an existence money (basic income, WITHOUT conditions) instead of inflating "job"markets" ???

    September 9, 2011 at 3:07 am | Reply
  7. Binod from Australia

    Congratulations Free the Slaves team and Emmanual for your great work. I have solidarity to your work and wish you all the very best

    October 19, 2011 at 5:49 am | Reply
  8. edward dugbartey

    HI bros kudos! That is a yeoman's job. I have a classical story like that whiles growing up. I saw cousin whose parents sent them to Yeji to stay with fishermen to work on the Volta river. Remittance are sent by their master or anytime he(the master) visits home. Anytime this cousins visit home to celebrate festival they paint gruesome pictures. Ironically, today, their children are roped into the same thing. The parents never went to school likewise the children. We took one of them to tema to school surprisingly, the parents came for her.Bros, this practice is entrenched in rural Ghana. Please keep on keeping on. God bless and ciao!

    August 15, 2013 at 6:28 am | Reply
  9. Edmund Nortey

    A lot of children have prayed for such a day. For some of them to walk safely out of this situation is a prayer answered. Am moved and excited about it because modernization calls for positive change. Kudos Emmanuel,I am inspired by your resilience. Keep up the good work because the prayers of those kids and their families will not allow harm to come to you.I pray for strength for you always.

    May 16, 2016 at 6:58 pm | Reply
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    December 20, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Reply
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