Eliminating child labour in fishing: The Torkor Model

There are 1.8 million child labourers in Ghana, according to the latest Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS6) reported by the Ghana Statistical Service in 2014. This is unacceptable. Our constitution establishes child labour as an abuse of the fundamental human rights of the child. Article 28 (2) of the 1992 Constitutions is unequivocal: “every child has the right to be protected from work that constitutes a threat to his health education or development”.

Since 2000 when Ghana ratified the ILO convention on the worst forms of child labour, there have been many interventions to deal with the menace. Some achievements have been made but progress is generally slow because of many factors.

One major challenge in the design and implementation of child labour interventions is the need to properly target the problem areas and to address the root causes in an accountable manner. This is why the approach used by the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of TUC-Ghana, is worth encouraging.

GAWU is implementing a child labour intervention in Torkor, an inland fishing community in the Kpando district of the Volta Region. The intervention is conceptualized on the Fundamental Principles and rights at Work (FPRW) as elaborated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

These principles are in four categories namely freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The Tokor Model, as the GAWU intervention is nick-named, is hinged on organising and mobilising fish workers (including fishermen and fish processing women) and employers ( boat/canoe owners) by equipping them with the relevant knowledge, skills and motivation to combat child labour, enhance their productivity and share their experiences with national and international partners.

The Torkor model reinforces the fact that fighting child labour in any sector is best done by those directly engaged in the immediate context. These are the informal workers and employers. Thus in the fishing sector the fishermen, canoe/boat owners and the fish processes and sellers are those directly engaged in the context. They are those who react with child labour. They are the actual reactants in the development reaction that produces child labour as a by product and livelihood as the main product. All other actors are regarded as facilitators or catalyst and not the actual reactants. Thus, resources are most efficiently spent if used directly to empower the reactants.

Thus in Torkor, GAWU has organized local fishermen to form the GAWU local Union and the inland Canoe Fishers Association (ICFA). This organisation is empowering the workers to drive the child labour elimination process. GAWU has also mobilised the women who buy, process and retail the fish. These are the actors along the fish supply chain where child labouroccus.

They are being sensitised to feel the consequences of child labour on the health education and development of the children they see every day in their community.

They are not given a mere head knowledge awareness. The sensitisation in done through mutual sharing of the experiences encountered with a child labourer. It’s a real life sensitisation platform.

It is not a hotel-setting workshop or technical seminar on text-book theory on child labour. These fishermen see the children recruited and trafficked away from home, haboured and abused by slave masters, hardened and criminalised through mixing with delinquent adults, drown and die in the lake. GAWU’s approach is to bring to bear on their conscience the evil of child labour and the opportunities to stop it. Many of them are victims of child labour themselves, and have grown into poor adults who must struggle to survive and keep their families.

They have limited opportunities today because they lost childhood opportunities for education, play and the acquisition of competitive skills. They wouldn’t want this to happen to any child within their sphere of influence.

This kind of sensitisation, carried out at the very site of child labour on the banks of the Volta Lake would spur rational men into action against the menace.

It is different from sensationalism; where imageries are used to tickle the senses for a short time of effect. Sensitisation, in the Torkor Model is coupled with ready organisation and immediate long term action. This approach stimulates the social infrastructure required to bring real change and transformation.

When the eyes of the fishermen are opened, the hearts of the fish processing women are moved for the children, and the mind of the traditional leaders and the whole community is stirred to take action, GAWU is ready with its organisational apparatus to immediately construct and execute sustainable action against the evil of child labour. This is when appropriate training and capacity building comes in.

When the children are removed from fishing, there is a labour deficiency. This is an economic reality for the fisherman. There is an imbalance in the factors of production. To restore the balance, and even improve productivity, the Torkor Model applies alternative measures to the use of children: legally employable young adults are trained as divers to disentangle the fishing nets caught by the underwater tree stumps.

This may be a shot term measure, compared with the removal of the tree stumps altogether from the lake. Consultations with the fishermen at Abotoase is galvanising momentum for the removal of the tree stumps.

Another measure is to increase the amount of fish-catch upon a fishing expedition. This is difficult because the general natural fish stock in the Volta Lake is dwindling, because many factors exogenous to the community, not the least is the effect of climate change.

So alternatives such a fish-farming and aquaculture are being pursued. This is where collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Aqua-culture Development (MOFAD) fits in. the local MOFAD Office in Torkor is fitting into this niche.

Improving productivity, for the fishermen and women engaged in fish processing and selling, is also achieved by strengthening the capacity of Associations, including Unions and Cooperatives.

This is the vehicle by which advocacy for improved supply of fishing inputs such as pre-mixed fuel, outboard motors, boat-building wood, removal of tree stumps and other needs can be met.

Penetrating the inertia associated with having good results from such advocacy can be daunting, but the processing itself is a useful input to the capacity of these Associations and future success in their relentless efforts to move government to be responsive and responsible.

Revitalising the rural economy in Torkor may take more years and dimensions than a brief 10-months child labour intervention can initiate. But the Torkor Model is a veritable learning opportunity that should be taken advantage of in the national quest to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in Ghana.

Given that it is a piece of a broader experimentation by the ILO on testing methodologies that work for sustainable child labour elimination in various countries including India, Zambia and Benin, the approach may well evolve into just what is needed to meet target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which calls for immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour and end all child labour by 2025.

As the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations leads the process to develop a new National Plan of Action against child labour, let us adopt the most workable designs and ensure that their implementation is well carried out so that the quest to eliminate child labour in Ghana does not become an elusive dream but a feasible reality.

By Emmanuel Kwame Mensah

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