Child Labour:the cankerworm depriving Ghana of her future
“I’d to quit schooling last year since my mother can no longer afford to pay my fees. She was recently thrown out of a rented apartment we are living in which cost GH₵ 800.00 simply because she can’t afford to pay for the rent.
This has left me with no choice than to sell ice cream to raise money to support her including myself. In a day I’m able to make a meager amount of GH₵ 17.00 sometimes a little lower,” said a 12-year old little Kojo who lives in Mankessim.
“I was born into a family of eight. My mother is poor and cannot afford to send me to school therefore I resort to selling pure water on daily basis in order to support my mother take care of myself including my siblings.
On a daily basis, I’m able to make GH₵ 3.00 out of sales. It is very difficult for me living this way but I can’t stop,” said Joe, a 6 year- old boy who hails from Cape Coast, but resides in Mankessim and he spoke in Fante.
These are just two out of thousands and one chilling stories about many children involved in child labour in some parts of the Central Region of Ghana that will send shivers down your spine.
Child labour is when a person below 15 years of age is either cajoled to work or willingly do so due to circumstances prevailing at home that is depriving him/her of his/her childhood, potential and dignity – when the work is harming their physical and mental development.
When a child is forced to leave school or combine schooling and work or when they are getting sick from the kind of work that they do – this is considered child labour.
According to Wikipedia, child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations.
The most extreme and abhorrent forms of child labor involves child slavery, hard labour, prostitution and mutilation. Most of these children can be found working in the agricultural and textile sectors, factories, mining companies, sweatshops and home-based operations.
Some companies employ them for their low wages which drives down their operational costs.
The working condition of child laborers can be sub-human. Some of them are forced to work more than 12 hours a day. Some child prostitutes are forced to participate in sexual acts that permanently ruin their innocence.
Most of them are paid a pittance for the long hours of work. One cannot imagine our own children going through the same plight.
Child labour that is proscribed under international law falls into three categories:
• The unconditional worst forms of child labour, which are internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and illicit activities.
• Labour performed by a child who is under the minimum age specified for that kind of work (as defined by national legislation, in accordance with accepted international standards), and that is thus likely to impede the child’s education and full development.
• Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, known as “hazardous work”.
Modern slavery also known as child trafficking, refers to the recruitment, transportation, harboring or transfer of a person from one place or the other against the real will of the victim for the purpose of forced labour, sexual exploitation or organ trade.
A new report by the Global Slavery Index revealed over one hundred thousand (100,000) people are estimated to be living in modern slavery in Ghana today ranking the country 34th with high rate of modern slavery.
Forced labour accounts for 85% of those enslaved in the country, while forced marriage represents 15%, the report released on Tuesday, May, 31, 2016 morning, quoted.
It listed farming, fishing, retail sales, manual labour and factory work as the sectors that accounted for the 85% of those enslaved in forced labour in Ghana.
“In Ghana, survey results suggest that there are an estimated 103,300 people enslaved, of which 85% are in forced labour, and 15% are in forced marriage,” the report stated.
The Global Slavery Index which is spearheaded by the Walk Free Foundation provides a country by country estimate of the number of people living in modern slavery in today’s world and the steps being taken by governments to respond to this issue.
A total of 167 countries were ranked in the 2016 study. The report mentioned economic conditions, violent conflict and territorial displacement, in addition to widespread humanitarian and environmental crises as the factors accounting for modern slavery in the Sub- Sahara region.
According to the report, the vulnerability of Ghanaians to modern slavery stands at 41.5 per 100 people, adding, “The exploitation of children is prevalent in the [Sub- Sahara] region. In Ghana, it is estimated that 21,000 child slaves currently work in the Ghanaian fishing industry along Lake Volta and its surroundings”.
At Mankessim, a town located in the Mfantseman Municipality of the Central Region of Ghana, one can only imagine what young innocent school going age children go through on daily basis without going to school.
The practice of child labour is ripe over there contributing adversely to teenage pregnancy, rape, low standards in education ruining the bright future of many children.
Majority of school going age children at Mankessim between the ages of 5-14 are meant to go through hazardous labour like fishing in the deep sea, child labour in farming, child labour in illegal mining (Galamsey), street hawking and sexual exploitation among others which is as a result of modern slavery.
It is very intimidating to see these children of school going age selling all kinds of items often under the scorching sun and in the rain. These children who are sent to the streets to sell become victims of sexual harassment, rape and drug abuse and some are even knocked down by careless drivers.
According to children’s act 1998, act 560, every child has the right to go to school and is the parent’s responsibility to work to take care of that child but what do we see?.
Parents have a major role to play in ensuring the proper upbringing of their wards and also provision of shelter, clothing and food. However, due to financial constraints, parents send their wards to sell on the streets in order to bring money home, but the Section 91 of the Children’s Act states that, the minimum age for a person to work in a hazardous condition is 18 years.
Hazardous work according to the act is work which poses some danger to the health, safety and morals of a person.
So what really accounts for children engaging in the act of child labour?.
An open forum conducted by Engage Now Africa, an International Non-governmental Organization, held at Mankessim Township on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 revealed poverty as the main cause of all forms of human trafficking including child labour, child trafficking in fishing, head porterage (“Kayaye”), sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced marriages among others.
The result emanated from numerous concerns raised by traders, school children and parents at the forum. Other factors that emerged as the causes of child labour include increased number of broken homes in recent times resulting in single parenthood.
It is sad to note that under such conditions, the single parent may not be financially sound to cater for child/children. In this case a child is sent to out onto the streets or elsewhere to labour or work to earn a living and to pay for his/her school fees if the child is desirous to be in school otherwise he/she is denied of basic education.
Some students who contributed during the forum cited the practice of some men marrying two or more wives [polygamy] in Ghana, especially in the rural areas] accounting for the barbaric act of child labour against the notion of some people that the more children one have the wealthier he/she becomes.
But this in our modern society /world is not always true in the sense that, as more children are born into the family, the more money you need to cater for these children as they grow and become more expensive to look after.
Thus the inability of the parents to provide them with the basic needs compel these poor and innocent children to engage themselves in all kinds of odd and exploitative jobs to keep them surviving.
Kojo a 12- year old boy, who sells sachet water (pure water) on the streets of Mankessim in an interview, revealed they are eight in the family and their parents are not in good jobs to be able to provide for their basic needs.
For this reason he has been asked by the parents to sell pure water so as to earn a little money to support him and the family. At the forum, death of parent(s) was cited as another factor contributing to child labour in the Region.
In most communities especially in the Central Region of Ghana, child labour is such a common phenomenon that people have virtually stopped paying attention to it. Indeed a situation of this sort where under- aged children are compelled due to circumstances beyond their control to do odd and difficult jobs just to earn a living must be given a serious thought.
It is a perceived notion according to most people that poverty is the main cause of most children not in school, but rather ended up in child labour.
But do authorities really see that as a problem?.
Speaking at the open forum at Mankessim on child trafficking, Mrs. Ankrah Halm, Mankessim Social Welfare Department boss disagrees with the view that poverty is the cause. According to her, parental misinformation and neglect are the main causes.
She said, “It is what we tell the children and the kinds of pictures we paint for the children to see that is rather deterring children from going to school than the poverty that we always attribute school drop- out to or children engaging in child labour.
“Poverty has been with us since the time of Adams, so why are we saying because of poverty children are not going to school, but engaging in child labour. We all went to school even though our parents are poor.
It is the commitment and the zeal of that child coupled with the responsibility of every parent to inculcate that zeal in the child as soon as the child is born,” she rebutted.
Ghana is blessed to have so many laws enacted especially that of children but the problem is lack of enforcement. If the Children’s Act, Section 91 states that, the minimum age for a person to work in a hazardous condition is 18 years, why do we see children below the ages of 5 and 14 working in such harsh conditions in the country?.
Does that mean the authorities are not doing well enough to curtail the practice?
Government seems to have failed in its attempt to stop the act simply because it has failed to enforce its laws guiding the act. As a result, the future of most children has become bleak.
Nana Ama Amissah III, the paramount queen mother of the Mankessim Traditional Area, believes for such a practice to end, Government alone cannot be held responsible, but for the collective responsibility of all Ghanaians to join in the fight including all stakeholders, Non-governmental Organizations and the law enforcement agencies.
Ms. Felicia Ankrah Halm, Director of Mankessim Social Welfare Department who seem to share in the view of the queen mother, further said that for Central Region for that matter Ghana to put a stop to the practice of child labour, it behoves on all stakeholders especially the Ghana Police Service to work in close collaboration with the Social Welfare Department to arrest and prosecute parents whose children are found engaging in the illegal act.
She believes the law must be enforced to the latter to ensure that every parent is held accountable for the upbringing of their children.
I believe the issue of child labour as well as modern slavery is a serious killer of the future of Ghana as we keep losing very brilliant children who are supposed to be undergoing proper grooming to get ready to take over from the older generation to this illegal trade. We must all pursue the curbing of it to the concluding end.
Let’s call spade, a spade and not a digging tool.
Let’s all put our hands to the wheel and work together to halt this deadly monster.
It’s time to enforce the law. Let’s enforce the law and save the future of Ghana.
By Joseph Kobla Wemakor|Ghananewsone.firstname.lastname@example.org