by LIN ABDUL RAHMAN
Ghana is rich in diamonds, oil, timber, cocoa, gold, and several other precious metals. Yet, according to a recent study conducted for the World Bank, a quarter of all Ghanaians still live below the poverty line.
One of the negative impacts of Ghana’s poverty is the prevalence of child labour. Even though the country’s Labour Decree of 1967 strictly prohibits children below 15 years of age from working, it does not expressly prohibit “light” work – a term that has been vastly misinterpreted to the benefit of employers looking for cheap, exploitable labour.
Ghanaian children can be seen working in the gold mining industry, the fishing industry, on farms and in cities as street sellers.
According to the International Labour Organization, West Africa has the second highest prevalence of child labour on the continent. Ghana’s Statistical Service states that 28 per cent of Ghanaian children are in some form of child labour.
On the streets of Kumasi – Ghana’s second largest city after the capital Accra – children hawk a miscellany of wares from dawn to dusk. Every time traffic comes to a stop, these young street sellers swarm every vehicle like ants around a lump of sugar. Tro-tros – minivans converted into minibuses which can carry up to 17 passengers at a time – are favourite targets. There are more passengers in one singular tro-tro and odds are at least one of them will buy something. Passengers sitting in traffic are almost always hungry, thirsty, or both.
Items on sale are an eclectic mix. For the hungry, there are spring rolls, plantain chips, peanuts-and-popcorn, frozen yogurt, breath mints, chewing gum, apples, sugar cane cubes, oranges, meat pies and fried tapioca balls. There are also dog chains, car air-fresheners, phone credits, towels, tissue packs, chocolate bars, cigarette lighters and even clothes. Filtered drinking water is ubiquitous – bottles, sachets, iced or regular, you name it.
These young street vendors are adapt at balancing their wares on their heads; they do this with amazing skill while darting between traffic, receiving cash, returning change and breathing in exhaust fumes under the hot scorching sun.
Although there are significantly large numbers of adults working in the streets, those that I’ve observed trawling the streets tend to be of a younger age. Street vendors selling food tend to be predominantly – but not exclusively – female. Males tend to sell non-edible items.
The study for the World Bank, which was supported by Dutch and Canadian funds, discovered that child labour is more prevalent in rural areas. Numbers by the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS) corroborate that finding. The prevalence of child labour in the Volta Region is 33 per cent compared to just 14 per cent in the Greater Accra Region. The Ashanti Region – home to Kumasi – follows with a conservative 15 per cent.
The study further revealed that two thirds of Ghanaian children who are working are also going to school. This is a worrying trend; the most recent GLSS statistic reports that one in every three girls and one in every four boys in Ghana does not attend school. Since the prevalence of child labour appears low where school enrolment numbers are high, increasing school demands is seen as a possible solution to getting children off the country’s job market and back into classrooms.
Rashid Mampusi Saeedu is 14 years old and a native of the Ayigya Zongo neighbourhood in Kumasi. Saeedu still attends primary school. He hits the streets after school every day with his sister, Sharifa, selling water sachets near a traffic stop on the Osei Tutu II Boulevard.
According to Saeedu, his average income is about 200,000 old Ghana cedis a month – roughly equivalent to $12.35 Canadian – a significant addition to his family’s income.