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Opinions of Monday, 14 January 2008

Columnist: Akomea, Bill Graham Osei

Save Our Children from Child Labour

Our society seems to be loosing sight of the illegality and effects of the over exploitation of children. Child labour has been on the ascendancy over the years to the extent that it is loosing the needed sanctions and wrath. Our children have turned to be the breadwinners in their families. This should not be accepted to stay but should be frown upon.

The welfare of the child

All over the world, the welfare of the child is of paramount importance. In various international treaties, special consideration is given to needs and welfare of the child. In 1989 for example, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Right of the Child, which entreats state parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure the well being of the child.

Interestingly, Ghana was the first country in the global community to ratify the Convention. Institutions including the Department of Social Welfare, Commission on Human Right and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DVVU), and the Family Tribunal have been established to over see the enforcement of the rights of the child. However, the zeal with which Ghana ratified the Convention is not equally matched by its faith and determination to implement its avowed provision in the domestic jurisdiction.

Act 560

The main legislation for the enforcement of the right of the child in Ghana is the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560), which both in substance and spirit is almost a carbon copy of the Convention on the Right of the Child. Act 560 defines a child as any person below the age of eighteen years. The Act prohibits child labour particularly, exploitative child labour. Exploitative labour according to subsection 2 of section 87 of the Act is any labour that deprives the child of its health, education or development.

Children and Work

Generally child labour at night is absolutely prohibited by section 88 of the Act. Night work is defined as work between the hours of eight in the evening and six O’clock in the morning. Furthermore, the minimum age for child labour is perked at 15 years whereas the minimum age for light work (work which is not likely to be harmful to the health or development of the child, and does not affect the child’s attendance at school or the capacity of the child to benefit from school work) is perked at 13 years (sections 89 and 90 respectively). The prescribed minimum age for apprenticeship is 15 years. The minimum age for the engagement of a person in hazardous work is eighteen years. Work is hazardous when it poses a danger to the health, safety or morals of a person. It includes: going to sea; mining and quarrying; porterage of heavy loads; manufacturing industries where chemicals are produced or used; work in places where machines are used; and work in places such as bars, hotels and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behaviour (section 91).

Protection of Children

Article 32(1) of the Convention on the Right of the Child urges state parties to protect children from economic exploitation and ‘any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the Child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.’ State parties to the Convention are also obliged, under article 36, to protect children from all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspect of their welfare.

Exploitation of Children

Regrettably, contrary to the above provisions, numerous cases of over exploitation of children are occurring day and night. In virtually all the main streets of Accra, Kumasi and other major cities in the country, young children particularly, girls are seen engaged in various kinds of trade like selling water, bread, biscuits, carrying load for money, working at chop bars, operating space to space business and serving as conductors for vans and vehicles. They chase vehicles here and there, putting their lives in danger. The most pathetic part of the story is that those who carry load for money for instance are taken advantage of. They are made to carry load heavier than they could bear and given money not commensurate to the weight of the load. Vehicles knock some down as they chase vehicles to sell their goods. Besides, the girls become victims of sexual exploitation.

Our Communities

Can we say we are not aware of these? Undeniably, this is something we see every blessed day. Most of these children are school drop outs. What has become of article 25 of the constitution which makes primary and basic education, not only free but compulsory? In mining communities, children are used for ‘galamsey’, risking their lives instead of going to school. In fishing communities, the situation is no different. Children are used for fishing activities. Likewise in the farming areas, instead of sending their children to school, parents used them for all kinds of farming activities. When one travels to kente weaving communities like Bonwire in the Ashanti region of Ghana, it is pathetic to see children being used by their parents and guardians for their kente business, depriving them of the benefits of schooling.

Our Homes

What about our homes? Children have been engaged as domestic servants, maltreated and paid remunerations far below the value of their services. What kind of future leaders are we raising for our motherland? Childhood is supposed to be one’s happiest moment in his lifetime, where the innocent child is supposed to be trained in happiness and under conducive and enabling environment. The child because of his vulnerability is supposed to be treated with extra care, love and respect

The Way Forward

The writer is of course not oblivious of the efforts being made to ensure the well being of the child in Ghana but suggest that more needs to be done. The Convention on the Right of the Child, which Ghana is a party, makes it a responsibility for state parties to take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates. It also entreats state parties to recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate freely in cultural life and the arts. The government has both moral and legal responsibility not only to recognize the right of the child, but also an equal responsibility to enforce these rights. One way of solving this problem is through enforcement of our laws. I will therefore call upon the various responsible institutions including the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs to rise up and save our children.

I will also call upon my dear Ghanaians to help by reporting as necessary as possible, cases of child labour especially, exploitative labour to the responsible institutions like the CHRAJ. Parents are also entreated to be responsible. They should give birth to the number of children they can properly cater for. As one social commentator rightly observed, ‘it is no calamity nor disgrace to be barren, but is outrageously disgracefully to give birth to a child that you cannot cater for.’

Tomorrow’s Ghana is much influenced by today’s children. Therefore, let us all come together and fight to eradicate child labour.

Bill Graham Osei Akomea
Faculty of Law, KNUST; The writer is also with the Centre for Human Rights and Advanced Legal Research (CHRALER), Kumasi

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.