Challenging Heights, a survivor-led organisation, has released a report that shows that approximately 60% of all children living in the fishing communities along the Volta Lake are child labourers.
The report, which is titled: ‘Children Hidden in Plain Sight: A report on the State of Child Labour in the Fishing Industry of Lake Volta (Ghana)’, was released to coincide with the World Day Against Child Labour, 2022.
The World Day Against Child Labour was instituted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and is commemorated on the 12th of June every year, to draw the world’s attention to the plight of children who are going through abused labour situations.
The theme for this year’s World Day Against Child is: ‘Universal Social Protection To End Child Labour’.
The report interviewed 2999 children, made up of 1732 males and 1250 females. The study took place in five districts of the Lake Volta areas, namely: Krachie East and West Municipalities in the Oti Region, Kpando District in the Volta Region, Pru District in the Bono East Region, and Central Gonja District in the Savannah Region. Overall, the research took three months, between March and May 2022, to complete.
The children interviewed were divided into groups, between 5 to 9 years; between 10 to 14 years; and 15-17 years; in line with ILO and UNICEF categorisations.
In the first age group between 5 and 9 years, 47% were in child labour. In the second group between 10 to 14 years, 69% were in child labour. And in the third group, between 15 and 17, 77% of them were in child labour.
This number is significantly higher than the numbers available from previous studies.
There are also differences among male and female child labourers when it comes to the tasks they had to do. Among male child labourers, tasks such as paddling canoes (46%), scooping water from the boat (32%), casting (35%) and pulling nets (33%) were especially high, whereas female child labourers had higher percentages when it comes to fetching firewood (34%), cooking for the company (23%) or fish processing (35%).
The study found that 61% of the child labourers were male and 39% were females. This stands in contrast with numbers provided by the ILO, which indicated that 87% of the child labourers in Ghana’s fisheries were boys, and the study by the IJM which claims that 99.6% of the child labourers were boys.
One possibility for the new data in our study is that not only child labourers on the lake were interviewed, but also children who normally do not work so much in public. With the different categories of labour such as cooking and fish processing, which might happen mostly behind closed doors, we saw that more female children are in child labour than have been previously assumed.
The tasks also differ when comparing different age groups. Among the 5 to 9-year-old child labourers, tasks such as scooping water (32%), fish processing (30%) and farming (42%) are especially high while other tasks that come with more responsibility and danger such as removing trapped nets (8%), driving outboard motors (8%), diving (14%) and mending nets (9%) are comparatively low.
This changes with the age group of 10- to 14-year-old child labourers, who predominantly paddle canoes (37%), cast nets (30%) and pull them back (29%), farm (36%) or fetch firewood (28%). The oldest age group of 15 to 17-year-old children has the roles that require the most responsibility and which are more dangerous than the others. They are often paddling canoes (42%), pulling nets (32%) and processing fish (30%); but also the most dangerous tasks such as diving (15%) or removing trapped nets (17%) are considerably carried out more often by this age group than by others.
In this study, a child is counted as a child labourer when he or she was engaged in hazardous tasks – this allowed us to capture child labour among all age groups, since as we have seen before by ILO standards, hazardous work always counts as child labour, no matter the weekly working hours. Children who did work that endangered their physical or mental well-being, such as working on the lake without security and doing work such as paddling, diving or removing trapped nets, were all counted as child labourers in this study. Also, work such as fish processing is dangerous for the children because it exposes them to great amounts of smoke for long hours, as well as using sharp objects (knives).
Among the 1794 children characterised as child labourers, 1389 (77%) said that they were beaten, and 730 (41%) showed signs of abuse.
As has been indicated in the existing literature, child labour often deprives children of formal education. Among all children (2999) interviewed for this study, 1696 (57%) were in school, whereas the number of children in school among child labourers (1794) was 779 (43%). Among the non-child labourers interviewed (1205), 917 (76%) were in school.
These numbers can be compared with the nation-wide enrollment rates that the UNESCO has published. In 2020, the primary school enrollment rate was at 82.4%, and the secondary school enrollment rate at 62%. The numbers confirm that the widespread child labour on Lake Volta is responsible for a much lower school enrollment rate when compared to nation-wide data.
We believe that the increased numbers of child labour could be connected to the impacts of COVID-19, as both the ILO and UNICEF indicated that the global pandemic resulted in higher numbers of child labourers. In a UNICEF article published in June 2021, the organisation warned that 9 million additional children were at risk of becoming child labourers because of the pandemic.
This comes in addition to already increasing numbers of child labour in sub-Saharan Africa due to “population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures” that caused 16.6 million additional children ending up in child labour in the four preceding years.
One of the key policy recommendations has to be connected to public education in general, and education of the parents in the most affected regions of the country in particular – in both the source and destination communities.
There is urgent need for affected children to be removed from child labour situations, and be placed in safe spaces such as schools, vocational and skills education, and any other developmental programmes that will guarantee their safety and future.
Since poverty – and COVID-19 made the economic situation of most households worse – is a main cause of child labour, policies should aim at making the economic situations for the families better.
The laws on child labour, especially the Children’s Act, should be enforced.
Funding of state agencies, particularly the Department of Social Welfare, the Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, and the Anti-Human Trafficking Secretariat should be increased to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness in prevention, rescue, rehabilitation of trafficking victims, as well as the prosecution of traffickers.
Challenging Heights is a survivor-led organisation established in Ghana in the year 2005 by a survivor of human trafficking. The organisation has been addressing human trafficking, and child labour issues since its inception, through rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children. Challenging Heights also implemented women livelihood programmes, as well as supporting young people to acquire vocational and employable skills.
So far over 1,700 children have been rescued from slavery, over 4,000 women supported, over 4,000 young persons supported through vocational training, and thousands of vulnerable children have been supported and prevented from child labour. The organisation also carries out research, and advocacy, helping to address systemic challenges confronting children.