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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Columnist: Amoah, Anthony Kwaku

Does Child Labour Really Exist In Ghana?

By Anthony Kwaku Amoah

Junior Graphic (February 15-21, 2012 edition) observes that, “Twenty per cent of Ghanaian children are engaged in child labour”. Throwing more light on the situation, the Ghana Child Labour Survey (2003) also informs that of about 6.36 million Ghanaian children between 5-17 years, representing 2.47 per cent (half being rural children and one-fifth, urban ones), over 88 per cent of them work as unpaid labour in the fishing, agriculture, mining, quarrying, truck-push, domestic work, commercial sex and hawking enterprises.

The same edition of the Junior Graphic reports Mr. Emmanuel Kwame Mensah, the programme officer of the International Labour Organisation, as stating that about 1,031,220 children below the age of 13 out of a total 1,273,294 victims engage in child labour. He further divulged that about 242,000 of victims work in very dangerous environments.

In all these cases, I think Article 28, Clause 2 of the 1992 Constitution makes it lucid when it says, “Every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education or development”. This however does not totally debar the child from working if only the assigned task will not impede his normal health, education or development.

I do not believe the constitution prevents any child from assisting his/her parents, guardians, peers or elderly in providing for basic necessities of life. Division of labour in the home demands that the child also gives some assistance. Parents and guardians therefore involve their wards in the performance of some chores. It helps to propagate in the child a sense of responsibility and hard work. Excluding the child from all duties can breed laziness. For the growing child to reason well and to take swift decisions in life, training is needed. Assigning the child some tasks is training. Sometimes, I get confused when I see or hear of some scenarios people describe as child labour. May be my understanding of child labour has a link with where I grew up. On his way to school, a child can help carry a few fire woods to say, market, for the mum to sell later. Provided the load is not heavier than the child is and does not affect his time of reporting to school, I do not think there is any crime committed.

Is it bad for a child to follow his/her mother to the farm when school is out of session? Let’s call a spade a spade. As a result of poverty in many rural settings, it would be impracticable for the child to always get glued to the book as parents alone hunt for food for the entire family. The use of the child, as a kind of supplement to parents’ efforts, is therefore necessary. Provided the child will be allowed to close from school before, given proper nutrition and medical attention for healthy mind and body, there should be no cause for alarm.

In cocoa growing areas, the use of the child for some labour is normal. So long as the youth continue to exit these areas for the cities in search of ‘better’ jobs, farming activities would definitely involve children. Children can assist parents head load cocoa beans from farms to nearby buying centres. The only thing parents must guard against is the temptation to let their children drop out of school just to aid them in their farming activities. Again, children must not be made to carry heavy loads over long distances.

For me, occasional use of children to perform some labour, in itself, is not bad. The issues would have to do with the kind of work, the age and physical strength of the child, the health condition of the child and the prevailing conditions under which the child is to work.

Though I appear to be supporting the idea for children to help parents, it is not for all jobs. I hotly oppose the use of children for fishing, mining, quarrying, sand winning, truck pushing, commercial sex business and hawking. These ventures are, of course, too hard and too dangerous for the child. After school, a parent can engage his/her ward in selling fish within the local community with some supervision by an elder. Hawking along busy streets and pavements is not ideal for children. Others like mining, sand winning, truck pushing and commercial sex businesses must also be ignored. Begging for money along streets and head portering, popularly known as “kayayei”, are degrading and life threatening ventures, which must not involve children. The emerging cases of child labour are really worrying. It needs the collective efforts of all stakeholders to tackle. Governments have done their best by formulating and implementing some policies and action plans to curtail this unfortunate situation but with little success. Providing a living solution to this hydra-headed social problem demands the support of all stakeholders, including teachers, parents, constitutional, human rights and legal experts, health workers, psychologists, sociologists, social welfare officers, media men, security personnel, local government leaders like the assembly members and MMDCEs, chiefs, NGOs and corporate bodies.

Ghana’s prayer of becoming a full fledged middle-income nation will be a mirage should this problem of child labour and abuse be allowed to continue. Intensive education on family planning, children welfare, rights, labour, education and health is also needed. Perpetrators of cruel forms of child labour should first be cautioned and later made to face the full rigours of the law should they fail to repent. More support systems should be instituted to address problems confronting the child.


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