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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Columnist: Isaac Arkoh

Coronavirus pandemic: Time to prioritise child welfare

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Violation of children’s rights, is worryingly common in our society and other parts of the world.

Children are not only vulnerable, tender, largely dependent on adults for support but they also require maximum protection, love and care for their growth and development.

The global pandemic - COVID-19, which has changed the pattern of life and sent leaders scrambling, has also brought to the fore the harsh realities of child labour and abuse in some of our communities.

Child hawkers

Nothing could be more heartbreaking than to see children aged between nine and 11 years, selling sachet water and detergents under baking sun, to raise money for their school needs.

This reporter, spoke to two such minors - incidentally, siblings staying together with their guardian, and guess what, they have been forced to sell on the famous Kingsway Street in Cape Coast to make money to buy school uniform, books and feed themselves.

They claimed, they were always mocked by their friends in school because their uniforms were tattered, when they lived with their parents.

The pair had been brought to Cape Coast from Elmina by their parents to stay with a priestess on the promise that they would be put in school – a promise she has failed to keep. They do a round trip of two kilometres – Brofoyedur to Kotokoraba, daily, to sell.

The children, due to circumstances, they absolutely have no control over, are left with no option but to keep pushing, crisscrossing streets and putting themselves in harm’s way as they sell their wares in the lorry parks, markets, walkways and on the streets.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their education by depriving them the opportunity to attend school is regarded as child labour.

Children - Okada

It is uncommon to see boys aged between 12 to 15 years riding commercial tricycles, variously referred to as “motor king”, “yellow-yellow” “pragia” or “aboboyaa”. The tricycles are either owned by their parents or some other persons in the community and are run on “work and pay” basis.

Aside riding without license, they often openly disregard road traffic regulations with impunity. They do not wear crash helmets and operate late into the night without headlights or reflectors.

Kofi Adoba, a 12-year-old Junior High School dropout rider, said he abandoned the classroom because he was academically weak.

"My friends always laughed at me because I wasn't good in class so I am doing "work and pay" with the motor to enable me to cater for myself and family since my grandparents are aged and sick."

He revealed that some of his friends, who were also performing poorly in the class had ceased going to school to engage in the tricycle riding business.

There are also those withdrawn from school by the parents - having their academic dreams dashed to ride tricycles because of poverty.

Child Beggars

Although, the practice of children selling by the roadside in the Ghanaian context is considered as helping parents. It could in the long term, threaten their future welfare.

Seeing children begging for alms and selling by the roadside amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the Cape Coast Metropolis is more troubling.

Begging in all forms (whether for money or food) is illegal in Ghana and the Children's Act (Act 560), is clear about that.

The undignified practice is not helpful to the country’s drive towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the right to education and good health.

The situation is being exacerbated by the invasion of children from slum communities in other West African and Central African countries. They have been begging for money to keep themselves and their families going.

While their peers are at home, they are found at major road intersections in the city and the ceremonial routes, desperately pushing to put food on the table.

A 16-year-old boy found begging on the streets of Abura, a suburb of Cape Coast said "my parents are divorced and my elder brother has stopped taking care of us so I have to beg to feed myself and my brothers.

“It is good for I’m getting more money every day.”

Drenched in sweat and moving with lightning speed, they are smart and deploy all manner of tricks to make money.

Institutional appeal

Mr Tetteh Tuwor, Central Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), and Mr. Paul Tetteh, the Assin Municipal Director of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) in a separate interview called for the arrest of parents and guardians who let loose their children to loiter or engage in hawking in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

They described the phenomenon as disheartening, illegal and a violation of the President’s directive for all schools to be closed for maximum protection of children against the virus.

They underlined the need for parents and guardians to be responsible, ensure that their children stayed at home and not to loiter in town under any circumstances.

Law infractions

They indicated that the child labour contravened Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, ratified by 191 countries, which states that every child (under 18) has the right to be protected from work that threatens his or her health, education or development.

The government has passed several laws and signed a number of international treaties to guard against exploitative forms of child labour.

Article 28 of the 1992 Constitution, prohibits labour that is considered injurious to the health, education, or development of the child.

Department Gender and Social Welfare

Mrs Thywill Eyra Kpe, The Central Regional Director of the Department of Gender, said child, overpopulation, poverty, parental illiteracy, lack of proper education, urbanization and availability of cheap child labour were some common causes of wide-spread child labour.

Irresponsible parenting is also a major factor.

Way forward

Mrs. Kpe said the issue of street children was quite disturbing but could not be tackled by the Department alone.

The situation breeds armed robbery, prostitution and has been fueling teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Although the Department tried rescuing some children from the streets, the operation was not successful because the approach was ad hoc.

“We need a holistic approach to deal with the situation because rescuing children from the street is not a simple procedure.

She advised parents not to use poverty as a licence to neglect their children. They should live up to their responsibility of taking care and nurturing their growth and development.