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21.02.2006 General News

Did Minister Lie Over Child Labour?

By Public Agenda
Did Minister Lie Over Child Labour?

….There are no child labourers on cocoa farms-Minister ….30% of workers on cocoa farms are child labourers-Researchers A Research Fellow of the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana, Dr. Osman Alhassan has exposed the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC) for lying that there are no child labourers on Ghana's cocoa farms.

According to Dr. Osman, about 30%, (or one-third) of the labour force on cocoa farms are child labourers who are mostly migrant children recruited from other parts of the country, but mostly from the northern savanna area. Dr. Osman, disclosed that the recruitment process is done mostly by agents who are themselves caretakers of cocoa farms in the south and of northern descent. Dr. Osman's revelations were the outcome of an extensive social research into the use of children as a cheap source of labour on cocoa farms in the country, with particular focus on the Sefwi-Wiaso District in the Western Region. Taking her turn at the weekly-meet-the-press last Tuesday February 14, Hajia Alima Mahama, the Minister of Women and Children's Affairs denied that child labourers were being used on cocoa farms in the country.

Hajia Alima who was a civil society activist before entering politics described as mere rumours, claims by child rights campaigners that child labourers were being used on the country's cocoa farms. Her denial comes amid increased concerns that some international markets were about to boycott Ghana's cocoa because of the use of children on cocoa farms.

Hajia Alima announced that her ministry had conducted a study on the issue and was convinced that what is being reported as child labour is indeed the age-old practice, where children help their parents on the farms after school hours, and that such children could not be called child labourers.

Perhaps, unknowing to Hajia Alima, the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, headed by his compatriot, Honourable Kofi Ada was getting worried about reported cases of child labour on cocoa farms and convened a two-day stakeholders validation workshop on “National Cocoa Child Labour Elimination Programme (NCCLEP). The workshop was tasked to validate a “national action plan for the elimination of child labour from the cocoa sector” starting from 2007 to 2011. Top on the list of stakeholders invited for workshop was Hajia Alima's ministry, the Manpower Ministry and the COCOBOD

Contrary to Hajia Alima's position, Dr. Osman's research found that the weight of work that the children perform on the cocoa farms does not fall within the traditional forms of 'child work' or 'light work', which according to the Children's Act, is work that is not likely to be harmful to the health or development of the child and does not affect the child's attendance at school.

Dr. Osman raised the counters when he presented a research paper, titled, “Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana” at the Institute's weekly seminars at Legon. The paper is an in-depth study of the incidence of child labourers on cocoa farms in communities at the Sefwi-Wiaso District. He was assistance by Professor Takyiawaa Manu, Director of the Institute, Prof. Gwendolyn Quaye, Dr. Peter Narh Tetteh and others.

Dr. Osman proved his point by explaining how recruitment of children to the cocoa farms is done. He explains that when the indigenes of the north who are caretakers of cocoa farms in the south are about to visit their hometowns, they usually inform a number of cocoa farmers about their impending visit home and discuss with them the possibilities of recruiting labour from the north. If they (the farmers) express interest, these agents, with financial assistance from the farmers, then discuss with the parents and/or guardians of these unfortunate children about having their children earn some income for them, while working as labourers on cocoa farms down south.

Some of these northern parents, already burdened with many children agree to the deal, bearing in mind the benefits they would reap. Dr. Osman cites pervasive poverty in the north as an added incentive for parents and guardians to allow their children work as farm labourers.

He said in most cases there are no agreed terms of payment between these agents and the parents of the children.

According to him, what happens in common practice, is that when an agent hires a child or children, he (agent) and the would-be-owner, usually agree on a contract sum for the services of the child for a specific period, say two or three years. In some areas two million cedis is commonly mentioned, as the contract sum for an average child for two years. Elsewhere, either a packet of roofing sheets or a bicycle is often agreed as the contract sum for two years. “There as many as 15 stages in cocoa production. It normally starts with land clearing and ends with conveying dried cocoa beans to sales points. In all the activities, child labourers participate as revealed by his respondents”, according to Dr. Osman.

He found that in using chemicals such as “kocide, Ridomil, Confidol, Asasewura and Champion,” no protective cloths are provided by the farmers to the children. Even the farmers themselves do not use protective clothing. He further notes that because most cocoa farms are located away off from urban areas, their masters hold them hostage until the end of their contracts after which they are allowed to go back to their hometowns if they wish. Commenting on the research, the Executive Director of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Mr. Bishop Akolgo was of the view that to ascertain whether or not there were child labourers working on cocoa farms, the debate must be situated in the larger context of what constitutes child labour. Akolgo agrees with Dr. Osman that if there were deliberate efforts at recruiting children to work on cocoa farms as his research suggests, then it would be wrong for the ministry to make such a public pronouncement.

He notes that though it is part of the African culture to learn by doing and since agriculture constitutes a major aspect our lives, children could work on the farms as part of the learning process as Hajia Alima argues, but where this was done for monetary rewards, “it would clearly fall within the domain of child labour.”