The Deputy Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Mr Antwi-Boasiako Sekyere, has said the ministry, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is intensifying efforts to address the issue of child labour, especially those in commercial sex exploitation.
He said the underlying basis for child labour in the country was poverty, adding that the ministry was committed to helping solve the issue of child labour, as well as reduce poverty in the country with the implementation of social intervention programmes, such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).
The minister made the remarks during the stakeholders and partners forum of the Ghana Child Labour Monitoring System (GCLMS) in Accra.
The forum was to deliberate on the issue of child labour and make recommendations on the way forward.
A draft pilot report on the findings of GCLMS revealed that a total of 5,741 children in five cocoa growing communities in the country were alleged to be engaged in child labour.
The communities included Assin North, Ashanti Akyem North, Dormaa West, Suhum-Kraboa Coaltar and Sefwi-Wiawso.
The data, which was collected between December 2012 and July 2013, registered 12,499 people out of which 5,741 were children, representing 46 per cent of the sampled population.
Mr Sekyere, therefore, urged the stakeholders to put in efforts and make recommendations that would help eradicate the issue of child labour in the country.
Background of GCLMS
In 2001, there were agitations in the Western media, especially in the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) about child exploitation in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast and, by association and proximity, Ghana.
There were also threats by some consumers to boycott chocolate, as a result of child labour, and the governments of these countries also threatened to discontinue purchasing cocoa from West Africa.
This became a matter of grave concern to the country and in August 2006, the government, through the then Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, instituted the National Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (NPECLC) to deal with the problems of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) in the cocoa sector.
The NPECLC, with support from both local and international partners, effectively developed and validated the GCLMS in 2011, which is a holistic and dynamic process for eliminating the WFCL.
The process involves direct observation, which is repeated regularly, to identify child labourers and determine risks to which they are exposed, refer them to services to verify that they have been removed and track them to ensure that they have satisfactory and sustainable alternatives.
Addressing the forum, the National Coordinator of GCLMS, Mr Atukwei Sam Quaye, said further monitoring was done to get the specific issues related to child labour activities that the children were engaged in.
'Therefore, we did a further monitoring of 561 children, out of whom 419 were confirmed to be in child labour,' he explained.
Also, he said, out of the 419 children confirmed to be in child labour, 299 children (between the ages of 15 and 17) were into hazardous activities such as fishing, mining, quarrying, among others.
Mr Quaye, therefore, called on the partners to strategise ways of evolving good interventions for children, such as providing them with school uniforms, sandals and school bags 'so that these children will be in school'.
He also suggested that those who were not in school be enrolled in some of the government's vocational institutions for them to acquire skills that would help them contribute their quota to society and also be certified in trained and acceptable vocations.
Cocoa production in Ghana is both a social and cultural practice where children undergo a process of socialisation in the course of their upbringing.
This involves children learning to do household chores in addition to the vocations that their parents engage in.
In many instances, some stakeholders and foreign partners misinterpret these acts of socialisation for child labour.
For instance, Mr Quaye said according to the Children's Act, any person below the age of 18 was a child and was supposed to do jobs that were permissible by the law.
'If the child is engaged in activities that are not permissible by law, or is detrimental to the moral, economic, and health growth of that child, it is considered as child labour.'
Also, he said, if a child below the age of 13 was woken up by his or her parents before 6 am to do any work, then by law, that activity was considered as child labour.
Unfortunately, he said, those activities were not criminal but considered as child labour, hence, the establishment of the NPECLC also sought to explain the differences between child labour and child work in cocoa production.
On the challenges, Mr Quaye said the issue of funds was a big problem as it hindered the accurate and timely delivery of the project.
Also, the lack of adequate resources and human effort had limited the operations of GCLMS in the country.
'We are working in just about 25 communities in the country that are involved in child labour and this is not good because we need to reach out to more communities and educate them,' he explained.
By Zainabu Issah/Ghana