Working children are everywhere in Accra. They collect the fares for trotros, mini-vans turned into buses. They stand in intersections, balancing baskets full of water sachets on their head. They sell bundles of plantains in the market. Although I’m usually unable to guess a Ghanaian’s age within a decade, these workers are clearly children.
Child labour is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Child Labour Report. Troublingly, one in four children in the region is a child labourer. Although the Ghanaian numbers are better than this average, the problem is endemic to the country.
“Ghana has made some progress, but the challenges are always there. We can do more,” said Stephen McClelland, the Chief Technical Advisor for the Ghana Project of the International Labour Organization.
According to a 2003 Ghana Child Labour Survey, an estimated 6.36 million children, between five and 17 years old, are engaged in economic activities. That means that half of children in rural areas work, and 1/5 of urban children work. However, not all this “child work” is considered child labour – labour performed by a child that directly impedes the child’s education and full development, jeopardizing his or her physical, mental, or moral well-being.
Twenty per cent of all children in Ghana, however, are involved in work that meets this definition of child labour. They work mostly in agriculture, sales, and general labour, but also in ritual servitude or commercial sexual exploitation. Out of these child labourers, over 242,000 work in conditions deemed “hazardous.”
According to McClelland, fighting child labour is about protecting children’s dignity, but is also about national development.
Eliminating child labour is “important for countries that are developing. If you ignore the development of your children, then you are condemning your country to difficult development challenges ahead,” he said. Working children perpetuate a cycle of uneducation and poverty.
The International Labour Organization has declared June 12 the World Day Against Child Labour. In anticipation, Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare outlined their way of combating the problem: the “National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour” (NPA).
The plan admits that Ghana has a problem, but also proudly mentions that Ghana has ratified both the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The NPA strives to honour these conventions and eliminate the “worst forms” of child labour by 2015 through enforcing labour laws, improving the education system, extending “social protection measures,” and developing standard procedures and protocols in dealing with child-labour cases.
McClelland says it’s a good plan, but needs to be turned into an action plan. And then into results.
“One thing that has struck me is that Ghana has gone a long way. It has good experiences with building up a policy and legal framework against child labour. I am encouraged [by the progress], but I’m also a realist. We haven’t got all the solutions,” he said.
He added that, in order to decisively end child labour, Ghana need to make high quality schools readily available and has to better redistribute its new found wealth.
“Undoubtedly child labour is caused by poverty, and some of the best of ways of overcoming poverty is to have a good, comprehensive, social protective system,” he said.