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Opinion | May 17, 2017

His Excellency Strikes: 9 Presidential Goals Against Child Labour

His Excellency Strikes: 9 Presidential Goals Against Child Labour

On 1st May, the President gave a stirring speech during the May Day Celebration at the Independence square. During the delivery of what sounded very much like a bold wake up call to the citizenry in general, and workers in particular, His Excellency Nana Addo-Danquah Akufo –Addo, struck many central chords to our quest for sustainable national development and prosperity.

He was very bold to address the lackadaisical attitude many of us have towards work. Another issue he took on, head on, is the ever topical issue of child labour. The President was very direct on the matter, blowing off the lid and dust that have stampeded efforts against the canker. In all the President of the Republic called attention and action on nine key nodes, which he seems to have pledged to provide presidential leadership as he rallies the nation to eliminate child labour, which is one of the grand abuses of fundamental human rights, under the 1992 Constitution.

Presidential strike 1: Child labour is a despicable act.

The President said of child labour: “It is a shameful phenomenon and an indictment on all of us, and it is time to stop hiding under a so-called cultural practice to find excuses”. This is a very direct jab. The ears of the President are “on the ground”. The culture card is one boring arguments you hear from even people in high positions who should be leading the fight against child labour. First of all we need to appreciate that our culture is very protective of our children. It is not our culture to exploit our children. No tribe, clan or family in Ghana has the culture of exposing children to hazardous work.

Perpetuators of child labour are anti-cultural. It is not even our culture to sacrifice our children’s wellbeing for so-called family survival. When we give off our children to any work that is detrimental to their education and health, we are doing something very shameful. There are those in high places now, who seem to argue that because they were engaged in child labour but managed to survive, there is nothing wrong with the labour exploitation of children.

What kind of argument is this? Such leaders must be indicted. Do you know how many children who never survived the condemnation of child labour? Many who lost their childhood to exploitative labour, are todays’ unskilled and thus unemployed adults. There is no culture in Ghana’s rich tradition, which promotes the labour abuse of children. To be in a country where a fifth of children are in child labour is indeed shameful and a true indictment on all of us.

Presidential strike 2: Children are our most important resource

The President said, “Children are children; they are our most important asset and deserve to be protected from being exploited in the labour field”. Children are not adults. They are not capable of assuming the responsibilities of adulthood. They have to be allowed to grow systematically into competent adults. Children are not to be the bread winners for their families. If orphans, we should have good state facilities to comfort and give them the opportunities needed. They are not to be forced into parenthood because their parents passed on. So if we are in a country where there are insignificant numbers of fosterage facilities to help rehabilitate and reintegrate unfortunate children.

Children are the future of our notion. The quality of adults today is a function of yesterday’s children. If we have so many unskilled youth, it is because we allowed so many of our children to miss out on quality education, because they were on the labour fields when they should have been working hard in the classroom. Children are vulnerable and cannot fend for themselves. They have no direct access to necessary resources and are wholly dependent on adults: parents, family, the state and society as a whole.

We stab ourselves in the back when we relegate the welfare of our children to the background. That is why it should not be the case that at the district and national levels budgetary provisions are least when it comes to the development of children. No Ministry or District Assembly should sacrifice its budget on children for any other thing. Any employer, formal or informal who admits any child below the minimum age for employment, under any guise, should be seen as a wrecker of our collective future. A so-thought engagement of children in child labour is exploitation of our children and a mortgage of our future. It is blight to our national conscience.

Presidential strike 3: Child Labour attracts international sanctions and dents our global image

This could have been tricky, but the President pulled it off: “it is worth pointing out that, if we do not stop these shameful practices, there are global agencies that have determined to institute punitive measures in some critical industries, which would lead to the loss of markets for our goods and loss of jobs” our chief labourer pointed out. Trade sanctions on our exports due to allegations of child labour may be perceived to imply a likeness of blackmail.

The debate on certification of products as “child labour free” in order to, in some cases, receive premium prices on the international market is not wholly decided because some argue, among other things, that the cost of production is affected by many other factors that may seem to necessitate “cutting corners”, including the employment children because the cost of labour provided by children is relatively lower than what the cost of adult labour would be.

Yet, the reality is that cocoa from Ghana was under such threat; and so can be our gold from artisanal and small-scale mining. Also, the issue of international image has become very crucial as the world shrinks further from a global village into a global household. It is not delightful to be looked upon as coming from “that country where children are abused and exploited.

Presidential Strike 4: strong leadership is required to make effective and sustainable progress in the fight against child labour

Unless there emerges a strong drive from government, this whole quest against child labour will be threatened by mediocre outcomes. Many years have passed since Ghana ratified the ILO Convention on worst forms of child labou (C184); more have passed since we were the first country to ratify the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). After all these years child labour consumes over 20% of our children. How did we get here?

This year, just like many other years that have come and gone, child labour featured in the national budget and economic policy of Ghana, but whether substantial funding will actually reach the on-the-ground actors or end up locked up or leaked from the disbursement bureaucracies, will be determined by the willingness of leadership at all levels to actually deal with the problem or pay mere lip service. The President says we should hold him accountable if we fail again: “Under my watch, government will work with all partners towards the goal of eliminating child labour”.

Government’s delivery on the Constitutional guarantee to protect every child from child labour is now squarely under the watch of His Excellency. This means that the government machinery should be reinforced to avert any embarrassment to the President. The Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) with its Labour Department and Child Labour Unit (CLU) must be reinvigorated to deliver on their mandates. Labour inspections should be properly carried out, including the effective monitoring of work places where children are likely to be found. Is the Ghana Child Labour Monitoring System (GCLMS) still operational, if not, what are the challenges are and when will it, if ever, get into productive function?

Is there a current National Plan of Action (NPA) under implementation, after the expiry of the 2009-2015 version which was well formulated but poorly implemented NPA? Who is keeping the National Steering Committee on Child Labour on its toes? How resourced is the Committee, and to what extent is its technical, logistical and financial capcity leveled up to the responsibility it bears to coordinate the effective implementation of all child labour interventions, government or non-government, in Ghana?

Another major government institution in this regard is the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) and the Local Government Services (LGS). Given that child labour occurs in households and workplaces in local communities at the district level, especially in rural areas, it is critical to ensure that the MLGRD and the LGS are driving the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to take full responsibility and result-producing actions through their Medium Term Development Plans and Budgets (MTDP&B). all partners, local and international NGOs, development agencies such as UN Organisations, should brace themselves to give their best technical and financial assistance to this noble cause.

This is particularly timely because the recently out-doored global agenda for transformation, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically highlights the elimination of a ll child labour by 2025 as one of the Targets. There is even a global effort focused on the achievement of this target. The ILO’s Alliance 8.7 platform is perhaps an opportunity for Ghana to demonstrate its commitment to work with all partners to achieve Target 8.7 of the SDGs. How will it be like if Ghana, having been the first country to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, becomes the first in the world to eliminate child labour from its territory?

Presidential strike 5: Hazardous work by children cannot be justified

It is refreshing to note that the President is aware of the error of justifying child labour under the guise of child or family survival. He recognizes that it is inappropriate for a child to be responsible for his or her survival or that of his family. Nana pledged “to ensure that our children do not work under hazardous conditions to support themselves and their families”. Children exposed to the hazards on our roads, because they are helping beggars should not be tolerated.

If the beggars are refusing to go off the streets and the government cannot find a viable alternative to support them, then adults should be made to assist them not our children, who can easily be killed or turned into disabled beggars by road accidents. Yes our fellow citizens who have been struck by unfortunate situations, which can happen to any of us, should be supported to make ends meet; but we cannot rub Peter to pay Paul. The President says that we should make sure our children are not exposed to hazardous situations in the name of self or family survival; and he is spot right.

Presidential strike 6: Government has given strategic priority to the fishing and mining sector

Child labour occurs in many other industries apart from fishing and mining. But it is tactical to systematically deal with the issues sector by sector because of, among other things, varying stakeholder interests. Some partners prefer to give their assistance in particular industries because they can better account for their expenditure. While the focus is on the well-being of the child rather than the mere business interest of especially corporate partners, focusing on a few sectors at a time helps to effectively mobilise resources and properly strategise for maximum effect. Also by closing the door on child labour in one sector after another, we progressively narrow the problem and increase the focus on the remaining few. The focus on fishing and mining is timely.

Child labour on the Volta Lake has become a global eyesore. Forcing children to dive under the lake to disentangle fishing nets is a well-known chilling experience. There are many stories of children who never returned from under the water. The engagement of children in illegal mining, galamsey, is another current issue. How I wish the fight against galamsey does not only focus its devastation of our water bodies and environment, but very much also on the terrible impact of galamsey of children.

We should agree with the President when he says children I illegal mining is “disgraceful”. When one sees our children crawling into galamsey pits or dredging in the alluvial, in comparison with their colleagues elsewhere enjoying exposure to quality education and a playful childhood, shame is not far-fetched when we ask ourselves “why our children”?

I support the President’s pledge “We will work to eliminate, in particular, the disgraceful practice of forcing children into fishing and illegal mining activities.”

Presidential strike 7: Child Labour is a threat o national security

After a quarter of a century since we promulgated a Constitution that claimed to guarantee the fundamental human rights of every child to be protected from child labour, we have woken up today to find 22% of our children exploited by illegal labour practices. If we don’t think this is a threat to our economic, social and political security, what is? Child labour is a recipe for inter-generational poverty. So the president says “it is important to keep reminding ourselves that child labour and child trafficking are not only crimes, but also now pose veritable threats to our national security.”

Presidential strike 8: child labour is a crime.

Child labour is not a mere labour offense.
Today, according to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), almost 2 million children are in child labour. This means the fundamental human rights of 2 million children is in jeopardy. The futre of these children is potentially stolen. They are likely to be robbed off a happy childhood and a decent adulthood. The criminality of child labour is not just a legal issue, it is a deep moral challenge. “We all have a responsibility to protect our children from the criminality of child labour”.

Presidential strike 9: the first lady is on board!

The engagement of the office of the first lady, in the fight against child labour, adds a strong emotive dimension. There is a mother in the house! This is reassuring. We can be confident that if men shut their insensitive eyses to the menace of child labour, our women, mothers and sisters, will not be that negligent. The bowls of tender care for the vulnerable will lead us to redeem any child. It is good for us all to join the President to acknowledge his “wife, Rebecca, for the determined manner in which she is speaking out against the evil of child labour and child trafficking, and for the memorandum she has signed with her counterpart in Cote d’Ivoire to this effect”.

We look forward to a very eventful presidential onslaught on the menace of child labour which threats to erase the usefulness of any present gains we make towards our future. The challenge is on.

Emmanuel Kwame Mensah
Emmanuel Kwame Mensah, © 2017

This author has authored 21 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: EmmanuelKwameMensah

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