Child labour is a deep rooted problem in the world, it is very common in the developing world. Asia and Africa alone accounts for over 85% of the entire child employment in the world. Child labour is widespread in rural communities, hinterlands and deprived settlements.
Child labour adversely impacts SDG1 to SDG5, SDG8 and SDG10, this shows how important it is and the need for countries to address the issues of child labour in developing countries.
The exploitation of children is usually for economic gains as their parents live in abject poverty and scarce resources. This serves as a threat to the dignity of children and humanity at large, it puts their health, life’s, education and future into serious jeopardy.
The dangerous part of child labour is that, there a millions of such children working under hazardous environment. There is total disregard for safety and welfare of these children, they work with no protective equipment or supervision and it presents a danger to their health and existence.
Children are mostly seen working in mines and quarries, agriculture (farming, fishing, forestry etc.), begging for alms by the roadside, hawking of goods, loading and transferring of goods, sex trade, domestic services, factory labourers, scavenging for scraps, packaging of salt, picking and recycling of trash, tourist guides, polishing of shoes, working in commercial vehicles (driver’s mate) etc. They are bonded in these and many more of such enslavements at the detriment of their well-being and safety.
It must also be put on record that, jobs that do not negatively impact the health, personal development, well-being and does not expose children to danger should not pass for child labour, especially, engaging in decent domestic activities to support the family. Admittedly, it may be difficult to determine which work constitutes child labour when kids are with their families working to support family income.
Children are expected to be developed into becoming responsible adults and citizens, they need to be trained properly by their parents, guardians and the entire community. Such light domestic activities that will not inhibit their education and welfare is required to cushion them with skills and practical experiences for adulthood.
Unfortunately, children are under paid for their services as against the risk they are faced with. However, it creates a major source of contribution to their family incomes. In most cases, both parents with their entire family are seen working for such long hours above the required working hours but receive minimal pay for work done.
Sadly, statistics for child labour is underreported, it is therefore difficult to project the accurately. It is because most affected countries see it as an embarrassment and questions their commitment to the SDGs and therefore do not want to make public the numbers related to child labour.
Nevertheless, statistics from researchgate.net estimates that between 250 to 304 million children aged 5 – 17 involved in any economic activity are counted. It further states that child labour accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, 17% in Latin America and 1% in USA, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations.
Surprisingly, there is limited or no data on children who have been sold outright by either their parents or guardians and are engaged in child labour. Some parents have sold one child out of the many children just to raise some money to take care of the rest. In an undignified manner, such children are traded off for as low as 50USD. These children are mostly sold out of their villages, communities, regions and in some instances out of their home countries and are subjected to very hazardous working conditions whiles some are forced into child marriages. But for tip-off from well-meaning members of society and the timely intervention to rescue these children, they would have been gone for good. This is a serious drain on our human capital needed for nation building.
A variety of factors accounts for child labour and amongst them are; poverty, death of parents, inaccessibility of school buildings, walking long distances to school, inadequate number of teachers, lack of conducive environment for academic work, limited learning materials. These issues affect the quality of education (SDG4) and parents therefore prefer to put their wards into commercial and domestic ventures.
Similarly, religious, cultural, traditional and social beliefs impede child education and child right. It is a major setback for the promotion and achievement of universal education for all. It is so deep rooted that some students have either stopped schooling or refused to sit for their exit exams due to the reasons mentioned above.
An outcome of a report released by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in 2014 revealed that an estimated 8.7million children aged between 5-17years (about 1.9millions) representing 21.8% were engaged in child labor. About fourteen percent (14.2%) of the children covered in the survey (about 1.2million) were engaged in hazardous forms of child labour.
Also, 14.2% of the children captured by the survey, 1.2million were engaged in hazardous work. Undesirably, Ghana happens to be one of the first countries to have ratified the convention on the right of the child, yet we have this staggering statistics which is either same if not getting worse by the day.
Regrettably, Ghana has the following legislation which must be applied in our fight to eradicate child labour, yet little is seen on our collective commitment to this fight.
- The 1992 constitution of Ghana (Article 28(2)
- The Children’s Act, 2003 (Act 560)
- The Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694)
- The Trafficking Regulation 2219/2015
- The Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, 1998 (Act 554)
- The National Plan of Action (NPA2, 2016-2020)
According to the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, child labor is identified to be thriving in the informal sector where decent work is on a small scale especially in cocoa and artisanal gold mining areas, fishing communities amongst others. The fishing industry alone has at least one out of five children working as a child labourer with the minimum age of six years old or younger. Fisher folks in their frantic efforts to sustain their gains subject and exploit kids to such risky working conditions for long hours with little or no pay.
However, we are gradually seeing the trend of child hawkers and other forms of child labour activities in urban cities like Accra, Tema, Takoradi and Kumasi just to mention a few. Information and data is very scanty on this modern-day slave activity so it makes it difficult to make any meaningful projections.
A frightening report in 2013 by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that about 304 million children aged between 5-17 were engaged in child labour across the globe. Some human right and child right organizations believe that figures concerning child labour are always underestimated because of the underreporting by affected countries.
The world is faced with the challenge of no international agreement explicitly defining child labour, this delays in the isolation of cases of child abuse and its abolishment. It has caused countries in setting different minimum age limit on laws for child labour.
The ILO in 1973 adopted 15 years as the minimum age required for work in developing countries. It further stated that children undergoing apprenticeship and vocational training can commence at age 14. There are children as young as 5 who are into active work, evidently against the ILO convention.
A lot of responsibility is placed on developing countries in eradicating child labour. There is the need for economic empowerment of many families especially those in rural communities, this will free the children from working to support their parents and guardians.
Countries must intervene with these measures; access to education must be free for all children. Again, there is also the need to improve the quality of education by means of; increasing teacher-student contact hours, teacher-student ratio, increase learning materials, training more teachers, re-training of existing teachers, motivation for teachers posted to rural communities, improving access to education, creating a conducive working environment etc.
Partnership as indicated in SDG17(Partnerships for the Goals) is needed through effective collaboration with humanitarian organizations, child right establishments, civil society, religious institutions, NGOs, international community in solving problems of child labour.
The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, relevant ministries and state institutions and other stakeholders must dialogue and agree on a policy framework and a roadmap on how to address issues of child labour.
The rights of children must be met by the standard of the UN Child Rights Convention as stated in its 54 statements (called articles) and guided by four fundamental principles; non-discrimination against children, serving the best interest of children, child survival, development and protection and child participation in decisions that affects children. These rights must be applied equally devoid of race, colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, affiliation, location etc.
Clearly, developing countries have more challenges with child labour than the developed world, this is because of poverty, lack of commitment by government to protect the right of children and the lack of legislative framework. Children are seen in all our urban cities hawking for survival, this mirrors the real situation on the ground. It is a reflection of its worse form in the rural communities of developing countries.
The world is left with nine years to achieve the SDG targets (Decade of Action), the coming years will be a vital period to eradicate child labour in all its forms. This will restore human dignity and inclusive human development through quality education.
Education is essential to break the cycle of poverty as it trains and develops children with skills needed to improve their future employment and income levels. It enhances their general opportunities in life and that of their dependents, anything short of this will serve as a threat to developing countries and the world at large.
The writer is an SDG Advocate and Lead Partner SDG Alliance-Ghana
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