Addressing Child Labour Without Corporate Institutions?

Today is another day I am going to deviate a little from my usual funfair articles. So please note that this week’s piece contains no fun, and I’m taking the liberty to draw heavily on, almost repeating, an article I wrote a couple of years ago, mindful of the fact that many things I expected to change have not changed.

June 12, 2016 is the World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL). This day is set aside each year by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to draw the world’s attention to the millions of children around the world whose rights are being denied.

In Ghana the day will be marked by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations with a number of activities, including an awareness walk. .

The theme for this year is “End Child Labour in Supply Chains in Ghana: Together We Can”

Ironically the list of the institutions the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations (MELR) invited to participate in this year’s WDACL events did not include even a single Corporate Company in Ghana. We see in every home how we enjoy koobi soup, and stew.

We see on our streets many armies of children selling scratch cards, chew gum, chocolate and milk products manufactured by these companies who make most of their profits off of children who missed out on school. If we have such a theme for such an important day, but we fail to involve the profiteers of such an international issue, would I be wrong to say that we are only marking the day to please the international community, we are not sincere about it?

In 2012 the ILO estimated that globally there were over 160 million children aged 5-17 years involved in child labour, down from 215 million in 2008. It is estimated that 9% boys, and 6.7% of girls the world over are engaged in worst forms of child labor.

The world as a whole has made a significant progress in the fight against child labour. Data in our part of the world is not reliable, but it is estimated that over 1.3 million of those children still suffering today are in Ghana.

Late 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian,  visited Challenging Heights. At the end of her visit she urged the Government of Ghana to consolidate the important steps it has taken with strong and sustainable implementation strategies with measurable impact on groups at risk as well as victims of slavery.

She is quoted as saying “Further progress on eradicating the various forms of modern day slavery and exploitation in Ghana can only be achieved by addressing the root causes sustaining these practices, including poverty, and the lack of access to livelihoods, education and health,”.

She said in a statement that “I have seen that child labor, including in its worst forms continues to thrive in some communities. Children, some as young as 4 years of age, continue to be sent to work in fishing communities where they do dangerous work, are deprived of an education and are not paid.”

In June 2010 the Government of Ghana launched a comprehensive multi-sector National Plan of Action (NPA) aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labour in our country by 2015 - just one year ahead of the deadline stipulated by UNICEF.

December 2015 has come and gone, and we are still confronted with the sight of a conspicuous number of children selling on the streets during school hours. Others can be found down mines, on plantations, or locked away in private homes. Child Labour in the fishing industry on Lake Volta is the single most dehumanizing of all the situations – and the ILO estimates that there are over 49,000 children toiling there today.

The Child Labour Unit of the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations is heavily dependent on ILO and UNICEF for its work. The Human Trafficking Secretariat of the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection is still poorly funded.

The Human Trafficking Fund, which is a creation of the Human Trafficking Law, has been empty for years. The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service has opened offices in almost all ten regions in Ghana. Yet it does not have the resources to move to conduct swoops on traffickers.

While the Children’s Act 1998 continuous to receive international praises for being one of the most comprehensive law on children’s right, in practice it sits impotently on the desks of the police while our children continue to suffer.

It sometimes come as a shock to many that some of Ghana’s children are offered for sale at a reduced price of $31, a lifetime of slave labour included! Through the work of Challenging Heights, there is a woman currently in jail who sold a child for  GHC100 to a fisherman on Lake Volta earlier this year.

There are records of children who were traded for bread to work on Lake Volta. A trafficker went to jail for this transaction also, but only because of the work of Challenging Heights – an NGO – not the state. These are not mere stories, but real tragedies happening in Ghana right now.

I will like to commend UNICEF, and the ILO under IPEC program for the efforts in supporting Ghana to address child labour. But for these organizations, we would not have had the NPA, and we would not have had the Human Trafficking Law yet.

The two international bodies continue to spend millions of Dollars in supporting both the government and grass root organizations to address the issues of vulnerability and child labour.

I recall UNICEF’s support to my organization, Challenging Heights, to remove several children from child labour situations and to get them in schools. In the last nine years Challenging Heights has rescued and supported a little over 1,500 children from trafficking on Lake Volta.

Our support has extended to over 1,500 women across our communities in Ghana. Last year alone, 41 of the 1,100 vulnerable children we supported were directly rescued from forced labour on Lake Volta. In the last  ten years we have supported nearly 10,000 vulnerable children across 40 communities in six districts in Ghana, many of whom could have fallen victim to child labour.

Doing advocacy on this is very complicated. For instance, how do you convince a bank to support the cause when their employees are the very people who recruit girls from the village to take care of their children while they work?

It is reported that a number of police officers and their families supplement their income by sending recruited village children to sell “pure water” on the street and bringing the money to them.

Meanwhile, desperate politicians wait for these children to grow into human thugs for violent partisan use. Almost all the big corporate companies in Ghana seem to have a vested interest in seeing children miss out on their education and labour on the streets instead, selling scratch cards, water products, gums etc to increase the corporations’ profits. 

As NGOs like Challenging Heights spend time and resources bringing trafficked children back, ever more are put into the same situation of forced labour. It is about time we say no to this cycle of perpetuating slavery in Ghana. We all can determine that we will send no child to the lake this year.

We can do this as a country if we don’t allow anyone to go looking for village children to exploit. We Ghanaians can stop sending children into slavery if we will all determine that we are not going to employ minors in our homes!