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Regional News of Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Source: Joseph Wemakor, Contributor

Rainforest Alliance and partners deepen stakeholders’ commitments on forced and child labour eradication in Atewa East District

Photo of stakeholders at a meeting Photo of stakeholders at a meeting

Rainforest Alliance, a non-governmental organisation, and its implementation partners, Edmark Rescue Foundation and Ark Development Foundation (CBOs) have held a district level stakeholders engagement forum aimed at deepening commitments and actions of cocoa and mining companies in Atewa East District of the Eastern Region to help government combat child and forced labour.

The 1-day dialogue, which is second in succession, was held at the Atewa East District Assembly Conference Hall at Anyinam on the theme: “Deepening Commitments and Actions to Tackle Forced and Child Labour in Ghanaian Cocoa and Gold Mining in Atewa East District”.

It brought together participants made up of community volunteers, government agencies, cocoa companies, traditional authorities among other stakeholders to discuss among other observations in the past six months about the fulfilment of the various commitments in their communities as part of the project goals.

The project dubbed: “Tackling Forced and Child Labour in Cocoa and Gold Mining” with funding from the Norwegian government through NORAD seeks to complement government’s effort at eradicating forced and child labour which is seen as an abuse of human rights which is potentially harmful to the wellbeing, development and health of victims.

Child labour and forced labour are pervasive issues that affect millions of children worldwide.

Today, there are an estimated 152 million child laborers globally, with millions more being exploited in the form of forced labour, trafficking, and slavery. Ghana, like many other developing countries is plagued by these issues, with child labour and forced labour prevalent in many of the country’s agriculture and gold mining sectors.

Child and forced labour have been a long-standing issue in the cocoa and mining communities in Ghana, particularly in the Atewa East District.

However, in recent times, cocoa and mining companies have been making significant commitments and taking action to address this problem with the support of Rainforest Alliance and its partners.

Speaking at the forum, the District Chief Executive Officer of Atewa East District Assembly, Kwabena Panin Nkansah lauded the initiative owing to the change it has brought to the district.

According to him, over the past 6 months, the work of the community volunteers and CBOs in demanding accountability from the cocoa and goldmining associations through following up on the fulfilment of commitments is paying off.

This he said has benefited people living within the various project communities and its environs in the Atewa East District Assembly as well as contributed towards reducing the forced and child labour menace it is faced with.

While commending the Rainforest Alliance and partners for the initiative, he quickly called on all stakeholders and project actors to always endeavor to effectively collaborate with the district assembly in order to avoid replication of the initiatives.

He equally appealed to the community folks to always accord Rainforest Alliance and its partners Edmark Rescue Foundation and Ark Development Foundation including the cocoa and mining companies operating within the district the necessary support to carry out their project activities to help improve the living conditions of the people.

The Atewa East District, located in the Eastern Region of Ghana, is home to many small-scale miners who often employ children in hazardous and illegal mining activities.

Many of these children work long hours in dangerous conditions, risking injury and exposure to toxic chemicals. These practices do not only exploit young children but also harm the environment and undermine national efforts to develop the mining sector.

Addressing the forum, a consultant on the project, Albert A. Arhin reminded the participants about the project objectives which seeks to help combat child and forced labor in cocoa and mining communities in Ghana, particularly in the Atewa East District Assembly where these activities are rife and appealed to all stakeholders to play their parts especially the cocoa companies to strictly honor their commitments towards achieving results.

He believes that the dialogue is a step in the right direction which equally seeks to help build relationships and to promote effective teamwork towards elimination of the canker of the child and forced labour.

In a plenary session after the group discussions, participants had turns to present findings of their commitments, activities and actions which they have pledged to work on emanating from the past dialogue (in a space of 3 months).

First to be given the chance to present their findings was the cocoa companies, followed by the government representatives before the community volunteers and monitors.

Upon review, it emerged that the outcomes presented by each stakeholder including the cocoa companies, government agencies and the community volunteers and monitors was positive which demonstrated their level of enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to achieving the project goals.

Albert Arhin reacting to the development in an interview on the sidelines of the engagement forum lauded all the stakeholders for their dedication and support to work.

He said: “I think I can see some enthusiasm on the part of the stakeholders, government companies, community leaders, monitors to contribute in the ways to reduce child and forced labour

"And I also think that based on the comments that came, everyone doesn’t want the canker to prevail but there are constraints, financial challenges when you go to the villages that’s what the government officials kept on saying

Companies also do have constraints as well but you could see that they all share in that vision of being part of the solution of contributing to the reduction of child labour”.

For her part, the District Health Director of Atewa East District, Vida Efua Afful described the project as a good start geared towards addressing the canker of the child and forced labour which is endemic in the district.

While lauding the project, she bemoaned the repugnant state in which Atewa East District found itself as far as social vices are concerned which is a major concern as a result of the activities of cocoa and mining companies which is taking a toll on children and depriving them of their bright future.

“It's very important that we get such organizations to support in these areas. Even before, we do such things in our own small ways because we see children dropping out from school, teenagers getting married forcefully and teenagers getting pregnant because of such behaviors

"We normally discuss the isolated ones, we use it in our durbars to preach, educate and sensitize the community but it is always good to get an organization like the Rainforest Alliance and partners involved with a whole community with such activities to help. So, it’s a good idea”, she posited.

While calling for collaboration among all stakeholders to achieve results, Afful appealed to the mining companies to equally come on board to the stakeholders dialogue forums and contribute their quota to reducing the menace since their activities appeared to be more destructive to the environment and contributing to the canker of child and forced labour at an alarming rate.

District Social Welfare & Community Development Officer, Gabriel Kwame Boadu reflecting on the situation in the district in an interview equally lamented the social vices encountered by children as a result of child and forced labour menace.

In his estimation, since the commencement of the work of the community volunteers and CBOs under this project in the district six months ago, there have been improvements, a lot of such cases have been made known to the public coupled with that parents have become open to the realities of the child and forced labour cases as well as its causes which is commendable.

Touching on the presentations made by the cocoa companies present at the meeting, he described it as passion-oriented, an indication that they are committed to fulfilling their commitments, actions and activities and have demonstrated to be doing something to help the community in addressing the canker.

Executive Director of Edmark Rescue Foundation (CBO), Edem Damanka giving a vivid account about the six months project which his outfit undertook in collaboration with his counterpart, the Ark Development Foundation observed that the lessons learnt are quite exciting pointing towards a positive future.

His account seemed to suggest that clearly the stakeholders under the project have fulfilled more than half of their commitments they have agreed to work on during the six months period of engagement.

Damanka averred that during the presentation, it became obvious that out of the 8 different commitments made by the district assembly last 3 months tabled for completion for the next 3 months, it was confirmed by their report that they were able to touch on all of them even though they could not finish it.

He noted that the same can be said on part of the cocoa companies who have managed to achieve 3 out of 5 of their commitments listed as well the community volunteers who equally did their possible best to scale up.

He is convinced the project has demonstrated to have achieved its objective if not in its entirety, giving it an overall scoring of 70% successful to buttress his point.

When asked what will be the way forward of the project, he said: “the way forward is that, the community monitors should be empowered so that the voices, the exposure and the knowledge they have acquired can be put to good use to demand accountability from the government and companies in their absence”, adding that, “It is the only way through which we can sustain this project”.

Meanwhile, the Coordinator of Ark Development Foundation, Emmanuel K. Mintah believes engaging stakeholders is crucial in addressing child and forced labor especially in Atewa East District.

He said companies must continue to make and fulfill commitments to eradicate these practices, while stakeholders must provide support and resources to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.

“Ultimately, a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach is needed to address the root causes of child and forced labor and create a sustainable solution to this problem

"This approach is key to the project’s intervention and on the heart of the Senior Project Manager, Mrs. Joyce Poku-Marboah of Rainforest Alliance, who indicated in the earlier dialogue that the complex nature of the root causes of child and forced labour requires collaboration and pooling of resources by all relevant stakeholders

However, there is still much work to be done, and it is up to all of us to work together to create a world in which no child is forced to work and every family has access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive”, he concluded.