Feature Article of Friday, 29 October 2010
Columnist: Acheampong, Elvis Akwasi
Child labor is very prevalent in most if not all developing countries. In 2008 there were about 215 million children working illegally in the eyes of international law across the world. About 14 percent of children around the world under age eighteen are engaged in child labor. An estimated number of 115 million children under age fourteen are engaged in hazardous work. These hazardous works threatens the safety and health of these children. These works include handling chemicals, heavy loads and enduring long hours. The rest of the 100 million of the world’s children under age fifteen are engaged in less hazardous works but again considered deeper and substantial than permitted light work. Just like other developing nations Ghana has about 20 percent of its children engaged in labor. Child labor is the regular participation in labor force to earn a living to supplement household income. In Ghana the Western and Eastern regions of the country including the three regions of the North, has the most reported cases of child labor. Majority of these children constituting about 242,047 are engaged in hazardous forms of labor (Accra-based Legal Resource Centre).
In Ghana poverty is one major cause of child labor. Poor parents who can hardly fend for themselves and their children send their under aged children to work under unfavorable conditions. There are large number of people villages and small towns who migrate to the capital Accra in search of greener pastures. Most of these migrants gets stranded when the story turns out to be different in the capital Accra. Having met the high unemployment rate, difficulties in finding decent accommodation and the harsh economic conditions, most of these migrants are found sleeping in the streets of Accra with no shelter. Migrants who come along with their children send them to work on the streets, for reasons of economic expediency.
Child labor activities may include carrying loads at the market places as porters, selling dog chains at the road side among others.
This trend of poverty persists because of the denial of education, which blocks the escape route of poverty for the next generation or the household. Attempt to eliminate child labor have most of the time failed because of the high rate of illiteracy. Poor parents are unable to send their children to school either because of high cost of schooling or inaccessibility. It is important to note that cultural pressures also undermine long term value of education especially for the girl child. Girls are most often than not compelled to quit education for marriage. Some cultures believe that the services of the girl child is needed mostly in the kitchen and at home , and thus do not value education. In most cases poor parents who have exhausted all strategies for survival sell out their children to child traffickers. At times children are sold into slavery, engaging them in hazardous activities as rock quarrying in mining areas, illegal mining activities, fishing especially in the coastal areas among others. One constraint on Ghana’s economic growth has been inadequate human capital development. According to 1992 data for Ghana, one girl in three and one boy in four does not attend school and the figure is worst in the rural areas. The increasing demand of employers for cheap and flexible workforce has also been one of the leading causes of child labor. This is normally attributed to small scale enterprise owners. Employers of small scale enterprises may employ their own family members in the villages and subject them to various herculean tasks at the workplace. These children are exploited since they are not paid according to the number of hours they work and the amount of work they do. Unlike child labor in Asia, most child labor in Africa especially Ghana is unpaid work in family agricultural enterprise.
The problem of insufficient labor inspectors or labor inspectors not doing their work well also thwarts efforts to eliminate child labor. The Accra- based Legal Resource Centre says that more and better labor inspectors must be put in place to address the problem. Their numbers must be doubled or inspectors must be made to do their job well. These labor inspectors must be held accountable when there are any cases of child labor in their respective areas.
The child labor monitoring system has also been initiated to help combat child labor in Ghana. It is a data base monitoring system in which active mechanism of repeated observation and identification are used to track child labor cases. It facilitates effective child labor interventions by identifying child laborers and linking them to satisfactory and sustainable alternatives such as schooling and skill training. Minister for employment and social welfare E. T Mensah, who launched the programme, noted that there had been several actions taken by various agencies of government, Non Governmental Organizations, civil society organizations and other corporate bodies towards eliminating child labor. However, there was no co-ordination among them. The purpose of Child Labor Monitoring System is to integrate their efforts into one action to achieve to achieve a common goal of eliminating child labor.
To eliminate child labor and to improve human capital in Ghana, the government must reduce the cost of schooling. The recent school feeding programme is a good step taken by the government of Ghana to reduce child labor to some extent. The free basic school uniform given out to pupils will also go a long way to reduce child labor. Educational system must also be made relevant to the needs of the labor market. When the country’s schooling system provides all these things, more families may decide that schooling is viable option as opposed to child labor.
Several laws have been passed by the government on child labor. A number of treaties have also been signed to guard against exploitative child labor. Article 28 of the 1992 constitution prohibits labor considered as injurious to the health, education or development of the child. Ghana has also signed three key international treaties that ban certain practices of child labor. There is also the children’s act of 1998 and the labor act of 2003, both of which address child labor in details.
In conclusion child labor is prevalent in Ghana, in spite of seeming progress in recent times. Child labor in Ghana has been the result of poverty, illiteracy or lack of education, less stringent implementation of child labor laws and also inefficiency of child labor inspectors. Reduction in the cost of schooling by government will put more children in school. Parents should be held responsible for their children. The government should make the prosecution of violators a priority. There must also be the increase in the number of child labor inspectors to check child labor cases and also be made to do their job well.
Elvis Akwasi Acheampong,
Freelance writer and President of Green Ghana Foundation