Education is a useful tool against child labour
In spite of its definition, a lot of people, particularly from this part of the world still believe that what is termed ‘Child Labour’ is too ambiguous and cannot be used.
Child Labour is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as work that is detrimental to the education, health, safety and general development of the child.
Not every work done by a child (person below 18years) is child labour. From a young age, many children help around the home, run errands, or assist their parents on the family farm or business. As they do this, they acquire skills and gradually become fully-fledged workers in family establishments or trades. Also, not all work is harmful to children; light work can be an essential part of a child’s socialization and development process.
Through carefully monitored work experience, a young person can acquire the right sort of skills to become a useful member of the community, and can gain the traditional skills that are transmitted from parent to child.
In this way, children learn to take responsibility, and they gain pride in their own accomplishments. Work of this kind is not without risk, but it is not what is generally meant as child labour.
Child labour is classified as children’s work which is of such nature or intensity that it is detrimental to their schooling or harmful to their health and development. There are seven forms of child labour, and they include: child domestic work; small scale artisan mining (galamsey) and quarrying; fishing; commercial sexual exploitation of children; trafficking and head portage activities (manual handling of heavy loads).
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-1948 stipulates that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights”. It is against this backdrop that the ILO frowns upon any form of demeaning job which has the propensity to impinge on the dignity of children.
As it were, having a child to sell foodstuff at the market for some few cedis for his or her up keep is considered normal and in the same way, going to the farm with them and giving them portions to weed irrespective of their ages, is how age old traditions were bequeathed to children in most African societies. Some parents therefore consider that as not only their civic responsibility but also a traditional responsibility that has to be carried on.
That aside, parents consider their children as their property and would therefore not tolerate any interference from anybody, particularly people who do not know our traditions, to meddle in the way they bring up their children. And this has greatly accounted for the persistence of this child labour menace in our society despite the various interventions by both government and international organisations to stem the tide.
Despite the passage of the Human Trafficking, Children and Juvenile Justice Acts, the level of awareness in the country is still low.
The causes of child labour vary from economic to social difficulties which explain why many families were not able to feed, clothe and educate their children. It is therefore welcoming that the ILO has chosen education as its theme for this year’s World Day Against Child Labour: “Education: The Right Response to Child Labour”.
It goes without saying that for us to completely deal with this destructive social practice, education is the panacea. Instead of always adopting the combative or accusatory posture, it will be advisable if parents and guardians are educated on the dangers of exposing their children to hazardous conditions and their long term implications on the family and the future of the nation.
There is also the need for those who engage the children in difficult labour to be educated on these issues. The children themselves need to be educated on the importance of education and be encouraged to go to school. It is an undeniable fact that in many of the areas where child labour is prevalent, poverty has been found as the main motive for parents to give their children away or ask them to do things that fall within the ambit of child labour.
All the countries that have in recent times progressed, increased their per capita income and improved the livelihood of their people did so by pursuing vigorous educational reforms and making education affordable to all sectors of the population.
Even though many people who were once child labourers would not want their children to go through the same predicaments, if they do not have the means to send them to school and there is no government policy that makes it easier for their children to get education, the temptation to pawn them or subject them to any of the various forms of child labour will always be there. And if their conscience does not get the better part of them, this vicious cycle will be with us for a very long time.
The ILO since 1992 has been pursuing a Global Action plan to Eliminate Child Labour. This programme is currently operational in more than 80 countries, with Ghana as a signatory to this policy. This very ambitious project calls for the adoption of time-bound targets to meet the global elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016 and it identifies various means by which the ILO can support this process.
The target year is just around the corner, and a little progress has been made in this endeavour. For us to meet the 2016 deadline a lot more needed to be done and this requires member-countries to have the political will to stay focused in their efforts to eliminate the menace. It is estimated that there are about 165 million children worldwide between the ages of five and 14 involved in child labour. These children often work for very long hours, with very little food and under very dangerous environment.
Some of the areas that usually engage child labourers in Ghana include children farming, domestic (house help) and fishing. At times parents pawn their children to defray debts they owe. Child trafficking and prostitution are also forms of child abuse in the country. While child trafficking may not be self-inflicted, child prostitution is, as some of the children, out of frustration and their parents’ inability to cater for them, venture into the streets to exchange their bodies for money.
As part of the measures to stem the menace in the country, the government and other stake-holders have come up with a number of interventions which include the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) for all children, which aims at ensuring that all children receive basic education up to the Junior High School level at the cost of government.
There is also the recently introduced School Feeding Programme, where children are given a hot meal a day in school. This is to entice children, some of who hitherto, would have had to do some sort of work in order to get food to eat before attending school. It also compels parents who would under the guise of not having money, deny their children education, to now send them to school.
Another policy worth mentioning is the recent educational reform which pegs the school going age at four. This is to get them interested in education at a tender age with the hope that they will remain in school as they grow up.
The “My First Day at School” Programme under which Ministers, Members of Parliament, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives as well as Ministers go to schools on the first day of reopening of the academic year, to meet the children and give them books, other learning materials and items to serve as an incentive for being in school, encourages them to stay in school.
In addition, the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment (MMYE) is coordinating the National Integrated Child Labour Monitoring System (I-CLMS) which is already operational in 20 District Assemblies. It involves key Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) identifying children at risk of child labour communities, removing and integrating them into satisfactory and sustainable alternatives such as formal education and vocational training. It is also a technical information resource for social planning and law enforcement at both district and national levels.
Currently, the Cocoa Marketing Company Limited has made it a policy not to deal with farmers who use child labourers on their farms. Again, farmers are educated on the need to employ the right people and not to exploit children. They are encouraged to allow children go to school.
The Ghana Employers Association has also developed a code of ethics which debars its members from using children at any point in their production processes. Again, the setting up of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service is also an avenue to help in the eradication of child labour.
There are some non-governmental organisations like Parent and Child Foundation, Network for Community Partnership for Development, Plan International, Care International, World Vision International and the likes who are helping to address Child Labour problems in the communities. Their activities include locating children involved in child labour, reuniting them with their families and putting them in school. They also help such children build on their self-esteem and get them integrated into society. Such NGOs usually monitor the progress of these children.
The media have over the period been very much up to the task. They have been instrumental in the education and the creation of awareness on the negative effects of child labour. Day-in-day-out, the media carry news items of children who suffer abuses from their ‘bosses’ or ‘employers’, those who have been rescued by international and local organizations and the resolutions of their parents never to do that again. The Ghana Journalists Association also now coordinates a network of Social Mobilisation Partners against Child Labour (SOMOPAC).
The United Nations Education for Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund as well as Children Rights International have championed the cause of children the world over.
Apart from the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education Programme instituted in 1995, the government rehabilitated infrastructural facilities in schools and colleges.
Private individuals have been encouraged to establish schools to augment government’s efforts. There has also been the promotion of girl child education towards gender parity in the educational sector. Both the number and quality of teachers are being improved to increase the yearly output of teachers.
These among others, were pursued with the aim of improving access to education as and quality of education in the country. As a result, enrolment in schools has increased over the years. According to the 2000 Population and Housing Census, 57.5 percent of males and 47.3 percent of females had ever attended school. Those who were in school constituted 32.5 percent males and 28.7 females of the population were five years and over.
The gap between males and females has narrowed considerably compared to 1984 where 31.6 percent of males and 23.7 percent of females were in school. It is hoped that the government will fully implement the FCUBE programme to help improve and expand access to educational opportunities for all in the country. Basic education and skills development should be made more accessible and affordable to children in deprived and poor households.
It is also necessary for the government and other stakeholders, particularly international bodies involved in the fight against child labour, to intensify the sensitization and education on the Children’s Act of 1998 (Act 560). Both parents and children should be counseled on the need to acquire basic education and training before engaging in any economic activities. Vocational guidance and counseling units should be established as an integral part of the Ghanaian educational and employment system to provide guidance to both children and parents on available opportunities.
By Innocent Samuel Appiah
This article was first published in the June 12, 2008 edition of The Ghanaian Times