Even though many Ghanaian children are involved in economic activities that are not detrimental to their development and education (child work), several others are compelled to engage in work which adversely affects them (child labour).
Not all work done by children is classified as child labour because children’s involvement in work that does not negatively impact on their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is regarded as acceptable or positive.
Child work is, therefore, limited in nature to a few hours of work a day, combined with schooling and undertaken under the supervision of adults, and does not interfere with the child’s health and safety, morals or general development.
Child work includes helping parents at home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket monies outside school hours and during school holidays through activities that are not injurious to their health and morals.
These activities provide children with skills and experience which help them prepare to be productive members of society during their adult life.
On the other hand, child labour is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood rights, their potential and dignity, and is harmful to the physical, moral and mental development of children.
Child labour thus refers to work that deprives children of the opportunity to attend school, compels children to abandon school or requires them to continue school attendance with excessively heavy and long periods of work.
In its extreme forms, child labour involves children being separated from their families, exposed to grave hazards and/or left to fend for themselves in the streets of large cities, often at a very young age.
While child work is a socialisation process, child labour, on the other hand, is a serious impediment to child growth and development.
When children help their families by working in the household or on farms and miss valuable school time, their education and future development are negatively affected.
It is important to note that particular forms of work can be regarded as ‘light/child work’, ‘child labour’ or the ‘Worst Forms of Child Labour’ (WFCL), depending upon the age of the child, the type of work the child is engaged in, the conditions under which such work is performed and the objective pursued by individual countries in the definition of child labour.
Globally, an estimated two million children under the age of 18 are involved in artisanal small scale mining and quarrying— with implications for the abuse of children’s rights— and over 90 per cent of this number are in Africa, South America and Asia.
The latest estimates from the new ILO Global Child Labour Report, entitled ‘Accelerating Action against Child Labour’, indicates that out of an estimated 215 million children in child labour, 115 million are engaged in hazardous work.
The report also indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed an increase in child labour and registers the highest incidence of children engaged in economic activities, with one in every four children engaged in child labour.
A survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service — The Ghana Child Labour Survey (GCLS) in 2001 and published in 2003 — reveals that 39 per cent of an estimated population of 6.3 million Ghanaian children aged 5-17 years were engaged in economic activities classified as child labour.
According to the survey, 17 per cent of these child labourers (1,031,220) were under the age of 13 and more than 242,000 of them were engaged in hazardous child labour.
One must be quick to add that the results of the GCLS are outdated as many interventions have occurred since then.
Hazardous child labour is defined by Article 3 (d) of ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) as:
(d) Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
More specifically, hazardous child labour is work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions that could result in a child being killed, or injured and/or made ill as a consequence of poor safety and health standards and working arrangements.
While some injuries or ill health may result in permanent disability, often health problems caused by working as a child labourer may not develop or show up until the child is an adult.
By hazardous child labour, what it means is that, children are engaged in work involving hazards and risks such as the presence of chemicals and noise; ergonomic risks like lifting heavy loads as well as working conditions such as night work, long hours of work and harassment at the workplace.
In Ghana, hazardous child labour consists of activities such as working in cocoa farms which involves working with machetes and pesticides, fishing which involves the risk of drowning and mining and stone quarrying which involves the risk of working with dangerous chemicals.
Many Ghanaian children are also known to engage in hawking and truck pushing, manual handling and transportation of heavy loads and in commercial sexual exploitation.
Ghanaian children are also known to be involved in child labour through the unregulated traditional apprenticeship schemes.
According to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, elementary education is a right and should, therefore, be free.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) also provides that children have the right to protection.
Furthermore, ILO Convention 138 also prescribes the minimum age at which children should work while ILO Convention 182 prohibits WFCL.
Recognising that child labour posed a serious threat to child growth and development and that the continuous abuse and exploitation of children would jeopardize the future of children and the future of society as a whole, as well, and cognizant of the slack in the rate of progress in efforts at reducing child labour, the international community, in 2010, adopted what is referred to as “The Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016”.
Earlier, African Countries, desirous of eliminating the WFCL, at the 11th African Regional Meeting in Addis Ababa in 2001, had unanimously resolved to work towards the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2015 as against the 2016 global target of the ILO. Accordingly, certain forms of child labour have been targeted for elimination.
These include labour that is performed by a child who is under the minimum age for that kind of work (as defined by national legislation, in accordance with accepted international standards) and that is thus likely to impede the child’s education and future development
The others are labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions under which it is carried out, known as hazardous work, and the unconditional worst forms of child labour which are internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and illicit activities.
Ratifying states of Convention 1812 are, therefore, requested to initiate measures aimed at eliminating the WFCL by 2016.
Perhaps, at this juncture, the question could be posed as to what Ghana is doing in view of its obligation as a member state of ILO and a ratifying state of ILO Convention 138.
Certainly, the response to this question is a positive one.
First and foremost, as a member state of the ILO and as a ratifying state of the ILO Conventions 138 and 182, Ghana has been part of the renewed global and international action to reduce child labour to the barest minimum.
Ghana has developed a National Plan of Action (NPA) for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour in the country and enacted a number of national laws relevant to child labour.
Some of these laws are Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560), Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732), Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, 1998 (Act 554), Child Rights Regulations and the Labour Act, 2005 (Act 651).
In 2006, the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (MESW), with support from the International Labour Organization/ Program of Action for the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO/IPEC), developed a report on the revision of the Hazardous List in the Children’s Act while in 2008, the National Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour in cocoa (NPECLC) also developed a hazardous activity framework (HAF) for the cocoa sector.
For an effective implementation of the NPA, Government has put in place institutional arrangements, one of which is the establishment of the National Steering Committee on Child Labour (NSCCL) which is the highest multi-stakeholder body that oversees and provides guidance and overall co-ordination for the implementation of the NPA.
Indeed, the NPA was endorsed on October 20, 2010 as the national labour policy and mainstreamed into the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA) 2010-2013 and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2012-2016.
So far, 36 institutions including government institutions, employers and workers’ organizations and civil society organizations have signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the MESW to collaborate with other partners for the effective implementation of the NPA.
There is also the Child Labour Unit (CLU) of the Labour Department which has been established to play a co-ordinating role at the national level, promote participation, efficiency and the flow of information among partners.
Currently, it is important to note, the ILO is providing support to the Government of Ghana, through the MESW in the implementation of four projects, namely ECOWAS 1, ECOWAS 2, Cocoa Community project and the Private-Public Partnership to address the worst forms of child labour in the cocoa, fisheries and mining and quarrying sectors.
In addition, government has also instituted several social protection measures and interventions to improve the welfare of children and their families, among which are the supply of free text books, capitation grants and school feeding programmes for school children at the basic level as well as other livelihood support programmes such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).
Clearly, therefore, government fully appreciates the challenges of child labour to the realization of national and international agenda in relation to education, poverty alleviation, social protection and human and child rights, but the challenge is the sufficient mobilization of resources to support the implementation of the NPA.
By G. D. Zaney