Soaring cases of child labour
It is not unusual to see shabbily dressed children in a tro-tro or the local passenger buses shouting themselves hoarse to attract passengers. For these young ones, necessity has driven them to abandon school and to work for themselves and their families at such tender ages.
Elsewhere, young children aged about six can be seen dangling their wares before potential customers. They sell all kinds of items ranging from fruits, bagged iced water, used clothing to dog chains. Others serve as aides to beggars and destitutes that have swamped the principal streets of the cities.
Fostering and informal adoption of children is common in Ghana. Majority of these children, mostly girls, are made to work round the clock. They have little or no time to play or interact with other children. They are denied education and are subjected to hunger, even though in most cases, they prepare the meals. These children who are abused, suffer emotional and psychological trauma.
Statistics are difficult to come by because of the informal nature of these activities, but it is evident that many children now find themselves in employment more than ever.
The reasons are not far fetched. The economic situation in the country has driven a lot of parents to push their children into situations that are so hard to justify. Some parents, especially those in rural areas, virtually give out their children to child traffickers because they barely have enough to eat and they think their children could be better off elsewhere.
The traffickers pay the parents a modest sum with the promise that the children would be financially sound when they return. The kids are then taken to various parts of the country where their labour is exacted under very extreme conditions.
These are worrying times for Ghanaians because Ghana has become both a source and a destination country for trafficked children. Children are trafficked to and from Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, and Nigeria for domestic servitude, farm labour, fishing and prostitution. Children trafficked from Burkina Faso transit Ghana on the way to Cote d Ivoire, says Elsie Johnson, a social worker.
Despite the fact that Ghana is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) children are subjected to several forms of abuse.
Today, hundreds of children are even employed in slave-like conditions by the numerous fishing communities along the coastal areas and islands scattered on Lake Volta.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has waded into this and is now implementing a programme to assist and return more than 1,200 children trafficked for forced labour, to their families,
As part of the scheme, which is being implemented with the Ghanaian authorities, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and a local NGO, the IOM is offering equipment and training to the fishermen in exchange for the safe return of the children.
The victims, mostly boys aged between five and 14, are forced to work from dawn to dusk casting and drawing nets. They live separately in cramped thatched huts. They are poorly fed and suffer physical abuse.
Under the scheme, the IOM will allow the children to return to school or join vocational training programmes, which it will set up together with its partners.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the organisation, says the programme will also try to help parents to become financially self-sufficient, We are going to make micro-credits available to their parents, he said.
The root cause of this trafficking phenomenon is the poverty, the desperate poverty of the parents who are ready to accept offers from traffickers, he stated.
Having realised the dimension of child trafficking in the country, the government has since launched an action plan to combat the trend. Vice-President Aliu Mahama, says it is unacceptable for such abominable and gross violation of human rights, which reminds us of the obnoxious slave trade to permeate into the fabric of the country .
The government is committed to tackling the menace through the poverty reduction strategy as well as credit schemes for vulnerable women so that they can take care of themselves and their children, he declares.
But the government s strenuous effort to deal with child trafficking is being impeded because there is no law to deal with the perpetrators. As a result, perpetrators of these heinous crimes cannot be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. Gaps in the legal provisions have helped child traffickers to escape punishment.
As is often the case, it is parents who allow their children to be taken away by the traffickers. The police have been trying to deal with the situation by using other legislations such as child-stealing and abduction to prosecute offenders, but in some instances, the courts have thrown out these cases.
The country s Criminal Code has no definition for child trafficking. The Minister of Women and Children s Affairs, Gladys Asmah, says her ministry is in touch with the Attorney-General s Department to address the situation.
Wilbert Tengey, Executive Director of African Centre for Human Development, an NGO, believes the country has, for far too long taken the issue of child trafficking for granted.
Although Ghana has a well-established legal framework on children s rights, the implementation and enforcement are lacking.
Ghana was the first to ratify the CRC convention. It has also ratified the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst forms of Child labour as well as Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment. The minimum age for employment in Ghana is 15 years but for hazardous labour, it is above 18 years.
The government has also shown commitment to the development of basic education, particularly, for the girl-child. A Ministry for Women and Children s Affairs has been set up while four Ministers and two deputies have been given the responsibility to oversee the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
But despite these laudable efforts a lot still remains to be done, a fact, which Dr Angela Ofori-Atta, Deputy Minister of Employment and Manpower Development concedes. We need to double up efforts to stop child trafficking because attempts to tackle the practice had not achieved enough, she says.
The government, perhaps, needs to step up its interventions in a manner that children s rights would be embraced by the society, especially among the rural communities, where children s rights are very much trampled upon.
It must also ensure that practical steps are taken to address the severe poverty among women and children and also encourage the setting up of counselling and placement centres for needy children.
These are important if Ghana is keen on combating the emerging trend in children s rights violations.