Published Article by James Kofi Annan: World Day Against Child Labor

Article by James Kofi Annan:

June 12, 2012 is World Day Against Child Labor. The theme for this year is “Human Rights and Social Justice, let’s end child labor”. Challenging Heights joins in celebrating the successes achieved so far, and in recounting the challenges faced.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potentials and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. Such work usually deprives children of the opportunity to attend school. According to the ILO, “extreme forms of child labor involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age”.

The ILO estimates 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are involved in child labo globally, with over 60% in agriculture. There are no reliable data on how many children are affected in Ghana. In 2003, the Statistical Service estimated over 1.3million children are caught up in child labor in Ghana, this figure representing almost 20% of the children population.

In 2010 the ILO and its global partners adopted a roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labor by 2016.This was to build a new momentum in order to attain the goal of eliminating child labor. The following year, Ghana, a member of ILO, also launched the National Plan of Action (NPA) with similar commitments, and followed it up with the ratification of ILO Convention 138, which sets out the minimum age for admission to employment.

Previously the government of Ghana had shown commitment to solving the problem of child labour by taking some actions. In 1990, Ghana ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The country subsequently included some prohibitive clauses in the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, and enacted the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560). The Human Trafficking Act, (Act 694) was passed in 2005 to set the framework for the fight against child trafficking. There are also child protection provisions in the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (732), some provisions in the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), and the Whistle Blowers Act, 2006 (720).

All these instruments empowered government to establish the Child Labor Unit of the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare to coordinate child labor interventions, the Department of Social Welfare to help with rehabilitation of survivors, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs to oversea the implementation of the Human Trafficking Act, and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of Ghana Police Service to enforce the relevant laws.

In 2000, the international community threatened to withdraw patronage of Ghana’s cocoa. This followed reports that the cocoa production process was tainted with child labor. To address this, the global chocolate and cocoa industry representatives signed an agreement, developed in partnership with United States Senator Harkin and Representative Engel (Harkin-Engel protocol), working towards the elimination of the worst forms of child labor from the cocoa production process. Consequently, Ghana established the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labor (NPECLC), with funding from UNICEF, COCOBOD, DANIDA and other partners. Two researches were done, a hazardous activity framework was established, and interventions aimed at rooting out child labor in cocoa were carried out in 47 districts.

Challenging Heights was selected to undertake remediation activities in Asikuma-Odoben- Brakwa and Agona West districts. Under the project, Challenging Heights, in partnership with the two District Assemblies, formed and trained 20 Community Child Protection Committees (CCPCs), including two District Child Protection Committees (DCPCs). These committees were empowered to lead in remediation efforts, and to serve as lead community structures in protecting the rights of children.

Through this work, Challenging Heights withdrew over 200 child laborers and placed them in schools and skills training centers. Under the same project, 16 community sensitization programs were carried out, including stakeholder conferences which brought together nearly 70 key partners such as District Directors of Education, Chiefs, Assembly persons, the media, and other leaders of the districts, all aimed at building district level capacity to end child labor. It was estimated that over 40 other districts were going to benefit from similar interventions by 2012.

Unfortunately, this project has suffered a setback. The then Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, Honorable E. T. Mensah, accused some of the projects managers of corruption and conflict of interest, while himself was accused of victimization and politicization of the project. The result is that, we have eroded the gains made through the project. Not a single child has been supported through the project since 2010.

Meanwhile the fishing industry which has been bastardized for forced child labor, continue to be least supported. A number of organizations including ILO, Challenging Heights, the police, and PACODEP, have variously rescued hundreds of children from the fishing industry in the last decade. Across the country, the biggest challenge facing activists has been the availability of rehabilitation shelters for rescued victims. The Human Trafficking Act (2005) mandates the government of Ghana to establish such shelters. Apparent lack of resources has made it impossible for such shelters to be established.

Last year, Challenging Heights commissioned a 65-capacity modern rehabilitation center for rescued children. This is to augment government’s effort at addressing the problem of the worst forms of child labor. Unfortunately, these efforts do not count toward improving Ghana’s ratings in the international community, especially since these are private initiatives.

Children in mining, street child labor, and domestic servitude also continue to deprive ourchildren of the needed education for their future. At the full glare of police officers, public and government officials, journalists, pastors, all of us break the law on children with impunity. We buy from child hawkers on the street, we employ them to take care of our house chores, we buy expensive Jewels which has been mined by enslaved children, we consume with glee our delicious “koobi” which has been fished by enslaved fishing boys and girls.

Recently the Christian Council of Ghana launched a project to combat child trafficking. I recall that the Council undertook similar child trafficking advocacy and remediation programs a couple of years ago. I will like to put it to the Christian Council that it is their members who are employing children in nearly all the sectors – fishing, mining, quarries, domestic servitude, everywhere. Some of the monies these adults accrue from the sweats of child laborers are given in offertory and tithes!

It is estimated that over 16million (70%) of Ghana’s 24million people are Christians. If each congregation would devote just 5 minutes in each month during preaching to talk about child labor, over 960million cumulative persons would be reached each year, and within 5 years, we will be able to end child labor. So our Christian Council is the easiest platform for ending child labor. All it takes is courage, sincere attitude, and honest faith in God.

Of course government has a role to play. It is not enough to pass laws. It is not enough to enact policies. It is not enough to create institutions. These initiatives ought to be followed with concrete actions. Government must demonstrate sincerity and political will to resource the institutions it has created, so that those institutions can do their work well. I’m grossly disappointed that almost every single policy or project undertaken by Ghana Government with regard to child labor, has been donor funded! The creation of the NPA, the NPECLC, the training of the Judiciary, the police, including the resourcing of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of Ghana Police Service, all of them have happened because UNICEF or ILO or IOM funded it.

Definitely we are grateful to our international partners. Local NGOs have played a key role in sustaining this fight against child labour. But as a nation, what is our government doing to protect its own children?

The 1992 constitution of Ghana guarantees every child the right to basic education. Article 25 (1)(a) states that “basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all”. It has been noted that education and the elimination of forced child labor are inextricably linked. Education is a basic human right that promotes equality and freedom, and every child is entitled to that freedom. This means that in order for communities to sustainably reject child labor, it must address the educational needs of the poorest populations. This need, for the provision of universal basic education, is not negotiable. Education is the right way to go, let’s end child labor now!

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