Child labour is an abuse of the fundamental human rights of the child. According to the Constitution of Ghana, “Every child has the right to be protected from work that constitutes a threat to his health education and development” (Article 28:2 of the 1992 Constitution).
In June 2000, Ghana ratified the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. After a decade and a half of action against the menace, what progress has been made?
Are we still in a state of denial, refusing to accept that child labour exist in Ghana and that the issue is not an imported foreign concept designed to make our children irresponsible and unresourceful in the name of so-called children’s rights?
Have the causes of child labour been well diagnosed to expose the root sources? Are the interventions effective in addressing the problem? Are the scarce resources spent efficiently? These are questions we need to dispassionate address as we progress in this battle against child labour.
Sometimes it is sad to realise that many people, including policy makers do not appreciate the concept of child labour. They make remarks that expose a very high level of ignorance of what is or is not child labour. If the very people expected to lead in the fight against the canker do not understand it, how much progress can we make?
Not every work done by a child is child labour. Children can be engaged in economic activities as part of their development and integration into the society. Such activities also help them to acquire useful life skills and practical orientation to complement their academic knowledge.
But the activity must be appropriate for their age and consistent with their capacity. In defining what child labour is and what it is not, it is important to keep to both international labour standards and national laws.
We should not leave the definition of child labour to subjective views of individuals and the mere perceptions of opinion leaders. International instruments that define child labour include, ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age (ILO C138), ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (ILO C 182), United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). National Laws relating to child labour are found in part five of the Children’s Act, Human Trafficking Act, the Criminal Code and the Domestic iolence Act among others.
Light work refers to activities undertaken by children which are appropriate for their age and circumstances. These include ordinary household chores, not hazardous to the child. For example, dish washing, sweeping and house cleaning (not dusty areas for asthmatic children) not for excessive hours or the expense of quality school work. According to part five the Children’s Act children are allowed to do light work.
According to ILO, child labour refers to the employment of children who are below the minimum age for admission to work, as stipulated by the laws of their respective countries.
So for example, the minimum age for employment in Ghana is 15 years. This means that no child below 15 years should be admitted to work. A child, thus, employed is in child labour. Normally, the minimum age is set to be consistent with the age at which the child completes basic school.
Thus, the idea is that before any child is employed he/she should have at least completed basic school having acquired basic education, minimum knowledge and skills required for a decent life.
This should be applicable both for the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Therefore, any child below 15 years who has not completed basic education and is engaged in work that interferes with his education health and development is a child labourer.
Think about about all the “pure” water sellers, mobile phone credit sellers and the other vendors and hawkers in our market places and city streets. How many child labourers do you think are in Ghana?
Worst Forms of Child labour (WFCL)
ILO C 182 focuses on certain kinds of child labour, technically called Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL).According to this Convention, the following four are worst forms of child labour: 1.
All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. 2.
The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; 3. The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties 4.
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.
Categories one. Two and three above used to be called unconditional worst forms of child labour because they are akin to criminal offences and no country under any circumstances should tolerate them.
The types of work in category four, above, are referred to as “Hazardous Work”. In determining what constitutes hazardous work and in identifying where they exist, consideration should be given to the following: work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined places; work with dangerous machinery equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels or vibrations damaging to their health; work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.
In Ghana, nine worst forms of child labour (WFCL) have been identified for elimination under National Plan of Action developed andimplemented by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) and Partners.
These are children in fishing, mining (galamsey), domestic servitude, kayaye, street begging, hazardous work in agriculture, commercial sex (including transactional sex), ritual servitude (e.g. trokosi) and cattle herding.
By Emmanuel Kwame Mensah