Religious responses to human trafficking in Ghana


On Thursday, Sept. 22, Stephanie Sandberg, associate professor of theater at Washington and Lee University, presented on religious attitudes toward anti-human trafficking in Ghana. The lecture, which was sponsored by the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, discussed the reality of slavery in Ghana, covered the process and results of Sandberg’s study and presented proposals for future study.

While in Ghana, Sandberg partnered with James Kofi Annan, founder of Challenging Heights, a non-government organization that rescues child victims of trafficking. Together they conducted interviews with 36 religious leaders and pastors in Ghana. The interviewees were a diverse group of Presbyterian, Islamic, Catholic, Baptist, non-denominational and Mormon religious leaders. Each interviewee was asked a series of six questions about their awareness of modern day slavery in Ghana and their proposed responses to such an issue.

Of those interviewed, 32 percent said they had a “good understanding” of human trafficking in Ghana. Often, even if they had a good understanding of the issue, the religious leaders said they could not respond to the issue because they did not know how to. 29 percent of the interviewees said they had very little knowledge of human trafficking in Ghana. One lay minister said, “An issue like this is important, but we must address what’s in front of our eyes.” 37 percent said they had no basic knowledge of the issue.

Sandberg explained how, just like we are often ignorant of the reality of human trafficking here in Grand Rapids, those in Ghana often believe that human trafficking is a problem that happens elsewhere. “No one wants to acknowledge that it exists right in their backyard, right under their noses” says Sandberg.

Sandberg went on to say that if a culture is complacent, the problem will only continue to worsen “until there becomes a major force that mobilizes toward change, that has money behind it and that has significant push to change cultural attitudes.”

Sandberg also remarked on how long it takes for cultural attitudes to change: “It’s gonna be like cleaning up an ecosystem. It takes a tremendous amount … you’ve got to get in at the level of basic fundamentals before you can shift it over.”

In the meantime, there are several steps that can be taken to improve the situation of human trafficking in Ghana. Sandberg suggests that funds be mobilized for the education of churches in Ghana, that the government needs to be persuaded to view human trafficking as a priority and to implement strategies in multiple institutions, and that churches and Ghana need to make human trafficking a priority of their own.

Sandberg has many plans for furthering her study of human trafficking in Ghana. She hopes to help develop a theology of human trafficking in Ghana, to write a social justice play in modern day slavery and to make a film to be distributed as a social justice campaign.