While there is not a clear definition for human rights as a lot of people have diverging views on it, a lot more scholars seem to be moving in the same tangent when it comes to what can be said to be its definition. According to Bantekas and Oette, they find the topic of human rights rather technical, and that is “to take the meaning of human rights for granted, or simply to refer to formulas denoting rights that we have by virtue of being human, would ignore the controversy surrounding their foundations and validity”. However, some schools of thought support what the United Nations sees as human rights.
Chapter 5 of the Constitution of Ghana highlights fundamental human rights enjoyed by individuals and institutions where these rights are not to be determined by the sex, social status, or even educational background of these individuals.
Narrowing it down to Ghana, people have colloquial perception that children do not have any right at all. This perception has accounted for numerous abuses in the system. For instance, comparing Ghana to any developed country, it is credited to the child to have a right to speech but in most Ghanaian communities or settings, a child can only express this right at a certain age. In the quest of the child expressing his or her sentiment about an opinion or a public discourse, he/she may be seen or tagged as being disrespectful and this is seen as a common abuse in Ghana.
For example, a child does not have the right to ask an elderly person a question, but be required to answer a question. This has unfortunately resulted in a lot of children acting timidly even when they are supposed to act rationally in some circumstances. The Children’s Act, 1998 behooves the child to have the right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education, and shelter from his parents. This piece of writing seeks to discuss the ‘rights of children in Ghana’.
Educational rights of children, which is prioritised in most developed countries, are on the contrary not recognised in most developing countries. In Ghana, a lot of children are denied such rights. According to findings by UNICEF Ghana, the following were recounted: “Nearly 623,500 children of primary school age are still not enrolled in primary school, and one out of four children in the kindergarten age range (from four to five years of age) are not in pre-school.
Despite Ghana’s progress in improving access to education for all, there are still challenges preventing thousands of children from going to school and learning.
Those who are privileged to enjoy these rights are either denied of its full benefits and privileges such as studying under trees, educational materials in short supply, among others. On the other hand, just a few privileged children enjoy these rights to its fullest in the Ghanaian society. In recent times, the government has made efforts for children to enjoy these rights. But in reality, some are not enjoying the quality of it although the sustainable development goal 4 suggests a quality education for all.
Health forms the numerous rights children are ideally entitled to enjoy, which echoes the saying ‘a healthy child is a happy child’. Unfortunately, a lot of vulnerable children are deprived of good health in Ghana primarily because of their inability to pay for a quality healthcare – a challenge which the sustainable development goal 3 talks about.
Although the Government of Ghana, with its implementation plan, has come through to salvage the situation, a lot more needs to be done. The introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), with support from several stakeholders, has made is possible for children to be attended to when sick; but recently, the scheme seems to be doing a little above nothing, causing the deaths of children in Ghana.
Rights of children also reveal the quality of life children must enjoy, which includes freedom from abuse. Abuse on children comes in various forms and media. A lot of children in Ghana unfortunately suffer abuse from either their peers, families, or even strangers. While it is important to know that abuse is not limited to the physical, it is imperative to note that abuse in children spans further to psychological, emotional, sexual and many others.
The effect of this abuse has been proven to be neglected. For instance, a report from DOVVSU reported by Ghana News.com revealed that defilement cases reduced from 1,304 in 2014 to 1,196 in 2015; and rape cases also dropped from 337 in 2014 to 316 in 2015. Which even suggests that prior to this, higher defilement cases were being recorded.
Beckoning from these facts of trepidation, there is a need for a timely resolution to ensure that the rights of children were not curtailed but protected. In view of this, a treaty was adopted by the United Nations member-states on 20th November, 1989. Ghana signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child on 29th January, 1990 and one week later, on 5th February, 1990, Ghana became the first country in the world to ratify the treaty, thus, committing to adopt it to a national law.
As a matter of fact, due to this law, children, young people, stakeholders, government officials and UNICEF came together on 20th November, 2019 (World Children’s Day) to celebrate progress made to promote and defend the rights of children in Ghana. At the event, the National Children’s Parliament was officially launched.
Excerpts of the Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, better known as the Children’s Charter, gave rise to the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Ghanaian child in modern Ghana. The following sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of children. The rights are highlighted as follows;
To begin with, in a bid to address the concerns, emphasise the specific issues, cultural values and experiences impacting the African child, the social rights of children was discussed. The Oxford Constitutional law describes social rights as rights of people to achieve their basic human needs.
These common social rights include the right to healthcare, right to housing, right to food, right to education, right to social security, and the right to work. A lot of children in Ghana are unable to access these necessities, leaving a chunk of them making the streets their second home. The disparaging effects is very dire. They most often than not end up picking some social vices and eventually becoming a nightmare for the society. Working to resolve this will require that children will be able to enjoy the basic needs.
Children should not be made to walk miles just to find water. Getting meals should not become a tussle – a definite reason why government’s programme on Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) is a commendable one. Therefore, government needs to ensure that children or students will not walk long distances in search of water as this has proven to be one major reason that forces children to stay out of school.
The right to protection from all forms of violence and exploitation and victim’s rights is another recommendation for children. Women and children are found to be the most vulnerable parties as far as the issue of violence and crime is concerned. This suggests that children need to be targetted in most of the social protection policies to be protected. Social protection is concerned with protecting and helping those who are poor and vulnerable, such as children, women, older people, and people living with disabilities, the displaced, the unemployed, and the sick. (Harvey et al., 2007).
Government must be able to come up with some interventions that will ensure that children will not be abused but be given other forms of training which will not inflict pains on them.
Child participation forms another right recommended for children. Participation in this sense denotes the right to be heard or have a voice, having access to information, etc. In Ghana, children are limited on the kind of questions they can even ask when at home with their parents as they like to put it: “You are too young to ask or know certain things’’. This causes not contribute meaningfully to matters that concerns them.
Government has made some efforts by passing the Right to Information Act, thereby making every form of information relevant to national affairs accessible to the public. A lot more needs to be done by allowing children to contribute to issues that matter to them. This can help to better understand their point of argument to better augment policies for them.
Children’s recommendation also highlights the right to education. A developed nation or country is one that educates its citizens. The constitution of Ghana ensures the right to free and compulsory basic education. This is an attempt to reduce the percentage of illiteracy in the country. Research by UNESCO in 2016 estimated that about 42 percent of the adult population is illiterate, and about 50 percent of Ghanaian women are illiterate, compared with 33 percent of men.
Rights of children need to be protected and guarded because leadership stares in the faces of these little ones who require a good guidance to help unleash their potentials to its maximum. The government of the day has come up with feasible plans that will help cushion them with some interventions such as GSFP, NHIS and Free Senior High School Policy. Other areas can be tapped in terms of security, mentorship, advocacy, and many others to fully equip them for the future.
>>>The author is a level 300 student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) pursuing Communication Studies, with specialisation in Journalism. Emmanuella loves to spend her time reading and writing opinionated articles that reflect on realities of life in all areas. She can be reached on 0241521333 and/or [email protected]