Over the past few years the issue of what constitutes child labour in the cocoa production chain has generated arguments in some quarters.
There is one school of thought that maintains that the issue of child labour does not arise when a child accompanies his or her parents/guardians to the farm, while another asserts that children who do this at the expense of their education or health, face some form of exploitative child labour.
There is another group that also questions the stage at which child labour occurs in the 28 steps involved in the cocoa production chain.
To find answers to these questions and in response to concerns and negative reports in the international media on Ghana in respect of the existence of the worst forms of child labour within the cocoa production sector, the National Programme for the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour in Cocoa (NPECLC) was instituted.
The primary goal of the programme is to encourage more organisations to fit their activities into the framework of the programme to ensure that Ghana meets its medium-term target of eliminating the worst forms of child labour in the cocoa sector by 2011.
Since its inception in 2006, the NPECLC has consciously worked towards the attainment of its strategic objectives with the institution of plans and programmes to propel the nation to achieve its goals.
These include promotion of universal basic education, enhancement of the knowledge base of the Worst Form of Child Labour (WFCL) in cocoa production, strengthening of the legal framework for dealing with WFCL and community mobilisation for action against WFCL.
The programme is also geared towards the development and implementation of interventions to eliminate WFCL in cocoa and the development of measures to reduce the need for child labour in cocoa.
The programme was established with initial funds and technical support from the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, in collaboration with the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the World Cocoa Foundation.
donor agencies, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Danish Embassy providing assistance.
Ghana has a lot to talk about in relation to the enactment of laws, ratification of international treaties and the establishment of rules and procedures for enforcing rights of the child and parental obligations, care and protection of children.
Chapter 5 of the country's constitution deals with fundamental human rights and freedoms which conform to the international human rights framework.
In addition, to the rights accorded to all persons, various articles deal specifically with children's rights.
In 1998, Parliament passed the Children's Act (Act 560) which provided a list of enforceable children's rights and the obligations of parents towards their wards.
The Children's Act is an embodiment of all the various conventions and policies that protect children's rights in Ghana and to ensure that every child of school age enrols in school, the government instituted the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (F-CUBE) Programme.
In addition to this, the School Feeding Programme, the Free Bus Rides for Children to and from school and district-based interventions were also put in place to encourage the education of the Ghanaian child.
Training programmes such as the Skills Training and Employment Programme (STEP), which has been transformed into the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) and several other initiatives have been introduced. These are targeted at ensuring a safe future for Ghanaian children.
Some children are, however, not benefiting from many of these interventions because they are busily engaged in the worst forms of child labour in the mining sector, while others are forced to work in the fishing industry at tender ages engaged in farming activities and do other jobs which are hazardous and exploitative to their welfare.
Even though initially, the WFCL in Ghana's cocoa sector was not recognised, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and the West Africa Cocoa/Commercial Agriculture Project (WACAP) that run from 2003 to 2006 revealed that the phenomenon did exist in the country on a smaller scale.
Speaking at the sixth Partners' Forum organised by the NPECLC for partners to develop a framework for co-ordination of activities towards elimination of worst forms of child labour in the cocoa sector, Mrs Rita Owusu-Amankwah, the National Programme Manager of NPECLC, said this year, the programme undertook the second survey on child labour practices in the cocoa sector.
She said the pilot survey was completed in April 2007 and covered six districts in three cocoa growing regions of the country, while the scale-up survey, which covered 15 districts was completed in June 2008, adding that the two surveys were funded by the World Cocoa Foundation and supported by COCOBOD.
According to the programme manager, findings of the pilot survey led to a better understanding of the nature and extent of the occurrence of WFCL in the cocoa sector, including the complications of child labour with child socialisation or upbringing by parents.
She said the scale-up survey also led to the discovery of the fact that children generally take part in cocoa farm activities and work alongside their parents or guardians mainly on weekends and holidays and that work is allotted to children, based on their age.
It revealed that majority of children (99 per cent) who were engaged in work within the cocoa sector actually lived with their parents or close relations and 91 per cent were enrolled in school, while 71 per cent attend school regularly and they did not work for wages.
Mrs Owusu-Amankwah stated that the survey report that was made public in June, this year revealed that 29.4 per cent of the respondents were involved in hazardous work, while 20.9 per cent of children work without adequate protective clothing and the majority of injuries happen at home and school, not on the farm.
She said implications of some of the key findings call for intensive efforts to ensure 100 per cent school enrolment of children in cocoa-growing areas, while children of school age need more support to participate fully in school.
Also, more attention needs to be given to the improvement of the quality of education in cocoa growing communities.
Ms Patience Dapaah, Programme Communications Officer of the NEPCLC, who briefed the forum on the outcome of a meeting organised by the International Cocoa Initiative hosted by child labour experts in London, in April, this year, called for the co-ordination of activities among partners to ensure that the varied interventions taking place in cocoa growing areas meet the national goal.
In his contribution, a participant, Mr Tony Dogbe of Participatory Development Associates, said there was the need to clearly define the context within which child labour occured in the cocoa growing areas and that must be clearly supported with facts to enhance a better understanding of the issue.
There is the need for us as a nation to gain the understanding and acceptance of partners on the issue, fight the root causes of exploitative child labour, and help children gain access to education and opportunities for development.
Denying the extent of the problem means postponing the right to protect vulnerable children.
Article by Salome Donkor