Child labour is work that threatens the health, education and development of the child. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention on Minimum age for employment is 15 years, therefore, child labour is refers to children below the minimum age 15 years, who have been admitted into employment.
In Ghana, child labour is a constitutional breach of the fundamental human rights of the child. Article 28 of the 1992 Republican Constitution of Ghana states explicitly that children have a right to be protected from work that constitutes a threat to their health, education and development. In addition to that, there is the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) and other laws such as: Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732), Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, 1998 (Act 554), Child Rights Regulations and the Labour Act, 2005 (Act 651) prohibiting child labour.
In spite of all these legislative provisions, one out of every five children is said to be engaged in child labour; according to the report of 2014 Ghana Living Standard Survey carried out by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) there are almost 2 million children estimated to be in child labour.
It true that the child labour menace occurs in each of the ten regions of Ghana and virtually in all districts and communities, but it occurs more in rural areas, predominantly in cocoa growing areas due to rural-urban migration, underdevelopment, and high poverty rate.
Even though government, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and other partners are continuously working to eliminate child labour, there is still a lot of work to be done. Without putting in place the appropriate sustainability measures, their efforts will be lost.
It is an undeniable fact that, government has instituted several social protection measures and interventions to improve the welfare of children and their families, among which are the supply of free text books, capitation grants and school feeding programmes for school children at the basic level as well as other livelihood support programmes such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme.
But fortunately or unfortunately, most of these social interventions are not getting to the core people for whom these interventions were implemented. My recent visit to some 21 cocoa growing small towns and villages in the Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa District in the Central Region revealed a very shocking reality.
The youth who are the active work force have all deserted their towns and a village to urban centres chasing non-existing “white colour” jobs. Against this background, it comes as no surprise at all that the average age of a Ghanaian cocoa farmer is 55 years.
According to the Chief of Fankyenko, Nana Kofi Badu, children as low as 10 years old have been drifting to urban centres in search of what they termed quality social life as well as to seek greener pastures.
“We cannot fault them for leaving to the big towns and cities because looking around me and my many years of working on my farms, there are nothing to show. Just take a good look at our houses, roads, and the kind of school structures in our community, what will convince the young ones to stay?” Nana Badu noted.
From reliable sources, the situation in the various small towns and villages I visited is no deferent from what is happening in most cocoa growing communities across the country.
The continuous labour shortfall on cocoa farms could jeopardise the gains made in the long fight to eliminate child labour because cocoa farmers will have no option than to use children as farm hands.
According to some farmers, the apparent disinterest in farming by the country’s youth is very much a structural issue that can hurt Ghana’s future cocoa production. This is a matter which the Ghana Cocoa Board should act upon. “After all, if there are no cocoa, there will be no COCOBOD.”
A woman cocoa farmer working on her cocoa beans
Another area that both government and development partners, as well as local and international NGOs need to focus their attention on is the issue of underdevelopment. The conditions under which these hard working farmers live are so dad and dehumanizing.
It was disheartening to discover that none of these small towns and villages could boast of a simple healthcare facility, potable drinking water system, motorable-roads, or school blocks. As for telecommunications services, the least talk about the better because it was nonexistent. In most instances one has to climb a tall tree to either make or receive a phone call.
In all of the 21 communities visited, there was not a drug store where the sick or injured can go to access first aid let alone Chip Compound man by trainee health assistance to see to the health needs of the communities.
There is an adage that “potable drinking water is life”, If truly this saying is anything to go by, then residents of the 21 communities who do not have access to clean potable drinking water do have life, because these residents drink from dirty contaminated water from ponds and rivers.
The big question we need to ask ourselves is what will motivate 15 years olds and above boys/girls who are legally employable under the right circumstances stay back in their towns and villages? The answer is obvious because there is nothing to hold them back. Everything around them from their sleeping places, food, water, school, roads, and general living standard will forever send them away if nothing is done by the state.
I’m not taken aback with the year-in, year-out shortfall in cocoa production. For example last year’s 700,000 tonnes against an initial forecast of 900,000 tonnes was general attributed to poor climate. It is also seen as indicative of longer-term problems in the sector. Farmer incomes have been hit hard by inflation and a depreciating cedi. They sell their cocoa to the government marketing board for about half the world cocoa price.
In villages and rural areas in Ghana’s fertile agricultural areas, many of the children (youth) of the country’s one million (1m) farmers do not envision spending their lives toiling on a farm as their parents did.
Presently Ghana have a farmer population that is aged or ageing and that also has implications on its Gross Domestic Production (GDP), because with all the oil and other natural resources combined cocoa still contributes more than half of the country’s GDP. Thus if government and all the industry players don’t come up a succession plan, Ghana is going to have problems in the future.
I have no doubt that the government fully appreciates the challenges of child labour to the realization of national and international agenda in relation to education, poverty alleviation, social protection and human and child rights.
As the world marks the 2018 World Day Against Child Labour, government in-collaboration with all stakeholders should come up with some pragmatic steps on this day to fashion out strategies which address rural-urban migration, underdevelopment and underpricing which is increasingly becoming one of the biggest threat to the elimination of Child Labour especially those in the Cocoa sector.
By Franklin ASARE-DONKOH
Writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The author is an International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) trained Journalist in Child Labour in the Cocoa sector.