The Upper West Region (UWR) was the 10th region to be created in 1983 but for 35years of existence, it still remains the poorest and least developed region in Ghana. The reason for its deprived nature can be blamed on sheer neglect by successful governments and political leaders, development agencies and all duty bearers. Poverty is very endemic with many households unable to meet three square meals a day. The saddest of all is the condition of children in the region. The circumstances under which children in the region found themselves is pathetic.
According to UNICEF, about 2 million children in Ghana are faced with various forms of child labour with 50% working in hard labour conditions and 38% trafficked and enslaved or found in distress migration (thechronicle.com.gh, 8/5/2019). As a result, the EMIS of the Ministry of Education in the 2016/2017 academic year, recorded 1,444 and 5,254 school drop-out of girls from Primary and Junior High School respectively. The GLSS 6 (2014) reported that 1, 982,553 out of the 8 million children in Ghana are involved in child labour representing a whopping 21.8%. Again, the Ghana Child labour Report (2017) stated that 1, 721,913 children aged 5 to 14 years are working in various sectors of the country with 91.7% attending school and 25.3% combining both school and work. On sectors, agriculture recorded as high as 78.7% child labourers followed by services sector with 17.6% and the least is industry recording 3.7% child labourers.
With respect to the UWR, one (1) out of every three (3) children are affected by child labour which represents 33.5% according to the GLSS 6. For all children affected by various forms of child labour in the region, only 31.2% are attending school. This means majority of children affected by child labour in the region are still not in school. The Child Protection Baseline Report (2017) of the MoGCSP stated that about 17.8% of children in the region are not leaving with their biological parents. The reasons are diverse including negligence, orphanhood, trafficking, and other vulnerabilities.
From March to July 2019, over 1,350 children were identified in just 10 communities as affected by child labour by PLEDGE Ghana in partnership with UNICEF through the project “Combating Worst Forms of Child Labour” which is been implemented in 10 deprived communities across 5 districts in the region. PLEDGE Ghana is currently working on a series to activities to create awareness, build capacity of stakeholders, strengthen families and provide direct support to child labourers and their families in the project areas with the aim of drastically reducing the menace of child labour and sustaining children enrolment and retention in school.
Frankly, the efforts toward fighting child labour in the UWR is meager and stakeholders need to improve efforts to curb the evil. Presently, many children across the villages are not enjoying full benefits of education. Parents engage these children in charcoal burning, carriage of heavy loads of farm produce, and walking over miles to engage in weeding during school hours. There are children as low as 8 years who are used to pick and carry shea nuts from tick forests over long distance with some walking bare footed and tattered clothes. Children are used as animal herds’ boys with some having no access to education at all. It is not uncommon to see children below 13 years engaging in mass spraying with agro-chemicals such as weedicides and insecticide without protective gears.
The situation of children in the region is further aggravated by poor conditions of classroom blocks. Many school pupils sit or lie on their stomach in order to take lesson notes or write exams for lack of common furniture. Even in schools that are believed to have furniture, pupils are congested with three or four pupils per one dual desk. School uniforms, bags, sandals, and books are not made available to pupils. In fact, many schools across the region are having multi-coloured school uniforms. Additional factors affecting children in the UWR are socio-cultural practices such as elopement, child marriages, distress migration, and modern trafficking. It is very difficult to detect trafficking cases because it is family-like trade and so people pretend under family ties to trafficked innocent children. The ignorance of parents and community leaders is another issue that cannot be overlooked.
With these conditions, children are not regular in school, they suffer various forms of physical, emotional and psychological trauma. Hygiene and health of children is very deplorable with many sufferings from common ailments such as malaria, skin rashes, oral problems, and boils.
We cannot continue to overlook the situation of children in the UWR. The time is due for action. Every stakeholder including central government, district-level leaders, civil society organizations and NGOs must consider prioritizing the UWR in their annual development plans, budgets and actions. PLEDGE Ghana and UNICEF have set the pace for the others to support in the joined efforts to fight the canker of child labour in the region. It must be noted that, children in UWR have equal rights to those children in other regions of Ghana and cannot tolerate the sheer negligence of duty from adults. They are the next generation of nation builders, and every attention must be paid to support them to grow into responsible citizenry.
Ghana is a signatory to several international laws and conventions including the International Labour Organizations (ILO) Convention No 138 and No. 182. Ghana has also endorsed the SDGs in general and SDG 8 in particular. Internally, the 1992 Constitution of Ghana gives freedom of rights to every Ghanaian citizen including children, enacted the human trafficking act (ACT 694) and the Children’s Act (ACT 560). All these legislations are meant to protect and secure the dignity of the Ghanaian child, and the children of UWR are not exclusion. The goal of NPA 2 is “to reduce the worst forms of child labour to the barest minimum (<10%), by 2021 while laying strong social, policy and institutional foundations for the elimination and prevention of all forms of child labour in the longer term”.
Therefore, there is need for more concerted efforts and deliberate action towards achieving the SDG 8.7 of the global goals by 2030. Any sluggish attempts will mean, we are reneging on our responsibilities as duty bearers, and the sins of children in future would be blamed on us. Lets all joins hands against child labour in Upper West Region.
IBRAHIM AZEBRE ABU