When one talks about the abuse of child rights, bonded labour where children are forced to work under harmful working conditions for long periods in order to pay off their parents’ debts easily comes to mind.
Early marriages, where girls at the tender age of 10 are forced into marriages to perform marital roles harmful to their best interests, is another example of child abuse.
It is estimated that about 60 percent of children in Ghana, mostly below the age of 13 years, have their rights violated in one way or another through various abuses including streetism, trafficking, domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, mining, quarrying and in agriculture. Although these manifestations of child abuse are seriously dealt with elsewhere, they are a daily affliction of some Ghanaian children.
In spite of taking pride in being the first nation to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is clear from the current state of child protection and development that Ghana is still a long distance away from making proper and adequate provisions for the development of her precious children.
It is on record that a good number of children are malnourished and a greater percentage of children of school going age are out of school. The Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) reports that over one million Ghanaian children of school going age are in child labour. Most of such children fall prey to the dreadful HIV/AIDS, while children in the war-torn areas suffer and live under hazardous conditions. Similarly, teachers in these war torn areas have abandon their posts to save their lives, thereby compelling the children to till the land for life.
Our children deserve a better deal. Like any other class of humans, they have a right to participate in matters that affect them; and our failure to involve them is a denial of this intrinsic right.
When the drive to participate is neither respected nor nurtured, and when the children are excluded or ignored by adults, their potential to contribute to their communities is compromised. Such children are likely to act as they have been treated and become social deviants.
The NPP government came out with a whole Ministry to address the needs and issues affecting children and women. The setting up of the Ministry is in the right direction, but the question one will ask is, how far has the Ministry reached in terms of its advocacy? Has there been enough sensitisation and empowerment of these children and women?
Meanwhile, it has been observed that a good number of Ghanaians are ignorant about the fact that children have rights which should not be abused. If society is properly sensitised to realise that there are rights that have been enacted globally and that the violation of such rights would attract punishment by law, abuse of children would be minimized if not totally stopped.
Though the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children is a very big achievement, there is the need to ensure that the constitutional provisions become operational for the children to benefit from them. It is regrettable to note that though there are laws against violation, children are abused on a daily basis.
Even though there had been concerted efforts at creating awareness about the Convention, many people seem to be oblivious of its content. We need specifics so that if the child is being abused by somebody, we must know what provision is there, and how it protects children. People must know these specifics so that they are held accountable for the abuses.
As the children are becoming aware of their rights and responsibilities, society should accord them the needed support to enable them grow into responsible adulthood. Every effort should be made to ensure that children are protected, given every opportunity to develop, and their God-given potentials tapped. As a nation, we should not forget that the children, who are denied education today; who are being abused, would become serious threats to society tomorrow. The development of any nation depends on how society protects and nurtures its children.
By their very position in society, children do not possess the means to champion their interests. Their direct voice is often not loud enough for adult ears or not attended when heard. It is therefore gracious for organizations such as the media and the various non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) to seek the survival, protection and development of our children.
As the only English-speaking sub-Saharan country that has a National Child Rights Coalition, Ghana has the onerous responsibility to demonstrate this leadership in concrete ways to serve as example for others in the region.
The first ever Easter school that was mooted by the late Alfred Kofi Appiah, the then Executive Secretary of Child Rights International in 2003, aimed at building the capacity of children to articulate and discuss issues that border on their own survival and development. As the future leaders, they should have an input into the developmental agenda process.
There is therefore the need for a platform to be created by the Ministry where children’s views could be incorporated in the policies. And the Easter school comes in handy for the views of children to be tapped into developing and shaping a policy that will give them a better future.
Children of school going age are on the streets hawking. For example, there were about 15,000 children as at the year 2003 on the street of Accra; out of this over 700 children below the age of 17 selling all kinds of things between the Airport traffic lights and Shangri-La hotel alone.
At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle-Kaneshie station, there were over 1,100 children below the age of 16 doing similar business.
Most of these children especially girls, have fallen victims to various forms of abuses, with sexual abuse being prominent. The get pregnant and give birth to a second generation of street children who have no knowledge of any cultural values and thereby pose a threat to society. A good number of these children have been involved in some forms of crimes. There are even prostitutes among them.
The Ghana Statistical Service says there are an estimated 1,239,680 children in the agricultural sector, namely farming, fishing and forestry. This is disturbing especially because Ghana has ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Worst Forms of Child Labour as an International demonstration of its commitment to arrest the involvement of children in work that is hazardous to their wellbeing.
Although the vast majority of children working in the agricultural sector are not in activities that can be regarded as the worst form of child labour, some do carry out dangerous work using primitive equipments such as the hoe, cutlass, spade and knife. Moreover, most children work without protective gear and are thus exposed to cuts, snake and insect bites, etc. The health of these children is negatively affected with all kinds of infections, diseases and even death.
The Most Rev. Philip Naameh, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Damongo recently drew the attention of Ghanaians to what he termed as the emergence of “second generation of street children”, referring to street children who have given birth to children and are raising them on the street. He warned that until something concrete was done about these children, moral decadence, violence and crime in the Ghanaian society was likely to exacerbate.
He said that unlike their parents, the second generation of street children have no defined cultural heritage or background except the culture of the ‘survival of the fittest’. This is because they only learn of violence, cheating, armed robbery and illicit business like the drug trade so they can survive. He said they lack the opportunity to learn cultural values like discipline, hard work, love and respect, which are needed in every stable and civilised society.
The situation where abused children are unable to provide medical report to support their cases for prosecution is also serious. There have been complaints from a good number of victims that they are unable to continue their cases in court because of financial constraints, which enable the perpetrators to go off the hook.
The Ministries of Health and Women and Children’s Affairs, as well as the Ghana Medical Association should look into the issue by exempting victims from paying for the examinations before medical reports are released to enable the police arraign suspects before the courts. This will allow victims to come forward always with their complaints.
There is therefore the need for government to support such child victims, especially those who can not genuinely afford to pay for such bills.
By Innocent Samuel Appiah
This article was first published in the Thursday, January 31, 2008 issue of The Ghanaian Times.