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16.06.2009 Editorial

No excuse - Our girls must be in school

By Public Agenda

This year's World Day Against Child Labour was celebrated last Friday, June 12 under the theme "Give Girls a Chance: End Child labour."

The Minister of Employment and Social Welfare in a statement in Parliament to mark the day announced that his ministry was finalizing a seven-year national plan of action to eliminate all worst forms of child labour in Ghana by 2015.

In fact the announcement of new policies to mark special days like World Day Against Child Labour is not new. Every opportunity is ceased to make such promises, but the question remains as to whether we matched policy announcements with implementation? What happened to the Children's Act of 1998 and numerous international conventions on child welfare, which Ghana has signed?

As the Minister rightly noted, although Ghana has made strides in dealing with the child labour, more needs to be done. This newspaper quite agrees with the decision by the organizers to draw attention to the need to create equal opportunities for the girl-child to have education, since families faced with difficult choices often favour boys' education.

While the state has the primary responsibility to provide the policy framework , infrastructure and logistics to make education a reality, the onus is on parents to play their supporting roles of investing in the education of their children.

Sadly, studies have shown that the practice of parents using their children as child labourers is the single biggest cause of poor enrollment, especially of girls. This is affirmed by the sight of children hawking all kinds of goods, from ice water to dog chains on our streets.

This newspaper recognizes the cultural and socioeconomic factors like puberty, the safety of the journey to school or the lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities at schools, as some of the hindrances preventing girls from going to school; that notwithstanding, we urge parents and guardians not to let any short-term economic advantages of using child labour to outweigh the long term development of girls and children in particular.

Hence, this newspaper reminds the government of the need to keep the social contract by providing improved access to quality education, particularly for girls in poor and rural settings.

If care is not taken, the positive progress made during recent years in boosting access to education and reducing child labour could be derailed by our neglect of children's welfare. Girls with some form of education are more likely to avoid poverty and ensure that their own children are educated, helping to avoid future child labour.

But what do we see on our streets? Girls of school going age are engaged in all kinds of work including, porterage of heavy loads, traditional restaurants attendants, domestic servitude, street hawking and above all prostitution.

Making education attractive for girls requires a concerted effort and the state has a responsibility to create a learning environment conducive not only for boys but also girls.

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