Child labour on the streets of Ghana: the issue with underaged street vendors

We go to malls for shopping convenience.  A hundred stores within walking distance of each other; you can spend a day at the mall and walk out with virtually anything you want.  The Ghanaian mall is pretty similar, except it takes place at every traffic intersection, and there aren’t really stores as much as countless vendors weaving their way between cars with baskets of anything on their heads.  You can do all your shopping on the way home from work; it’s a beautiful thing.

[pullquote]“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest. They need time for recreation… they learn from playing.  Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”[/pullquote]

That beauty, however, is marred by one significant fact: many of these vendors are young enough to be in primary school.  Kids aged as low as five are in the streets every day, selling wares ranging from water sachets to packs of gum.  When I was five, I was doing a lot of things.  Risking my life darting between trucks that can’t see me while simultaneously missing out on an education was not one of them.

“We’re aware that kids are being made to sell on the streets,” says Mr. Jacob Achulo, Director of Social Welfare for the Ashanti Region.  “Mostly it’s their parents who push them to do it because they are poor and need money to supplement feeding.  This is not right.  If you are not able to look after your children, then you should not bring children into the world.”

Achulo points out that constitutionally, Ghanaian law prohibits anyone from exposing children to physical and moral dangers, both of which he says are prevalent in street vending.

“Children can be knocked down by vehicles or attacked by thieves,” says Achulo.  “The girls can be lured or tricked by men into situations and then sexually abused…We are making our children to do the work of adults.  Children are innocent, they don’t know.  They think every adult is their mommy and daddy.”

Esther Ayariga* is in JHS1 (the equivalent of grade seven in Canada.)  She sells sachet water by the Prempeh II roundabout, making about three cedis ($2 CAD) a day.  Ayariga says she is often propositioned by men from their vehicles.

“They tell me that I’m beautiful or they want to marry me,” says Ayariga.  “Sometimes it worries me.  I told my grandmother but she tells me not to mind them.”

Ayariga says she heads to the roundabout to sell water every day after classes, always for long hours and often in overwhelming heat before returning home.  There, she washes the dishes, cleans the compound where she lives, and does her homework before going to bed.  This type of demanding schedule is another major concern for Social Welfare.

“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest,” says Achulo.  “They need time for recreation… they learn from playing.  Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”

Ayariga says she loves going to school, and hopes to follow the example of her older sister, who is a full-time student in senior high school.  For now, however, Ayariga says she will continue to sell water to help out the family.

“I don’t always rush home from school to sell the water,” she laughs, “but we need the money.”

For Achulo, this is precisely the mentality that his office is trying to fight against.

“All work and no play, your child will become dull…You have decided to choose, instead of the child’s betterment in the future, you have chosen money for today.”

*name changed to protect identity

A child, still in her school uniform, selling sachet water on the streets of Kumasi. PC: Lin Abdul Rahman

This entry was posted in Blog, By Country, Ghana, Job Type, Uncategorized, University Internship, University Internships and tagged , , , , , on by .

About Chris Tse

Chris Tse is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. The 21-year-old, originally from Coquitlam, BC, is the president of Carleton's JHR chapter. He has extensive experience in print journalism as both a reporter and an editor, and his work has been featured in The Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen, and various magazines and community papers. Aside from print media, Chris also has training in radio and television broadcast journalism, online multimedia, and news blogs. He is an aspiring documentary filmmaker with a short 10-minute doc, "Dreadheads" to his name. In addition to journalism, Chris is also an accomplished spoken word poet. He is the captain of the 2010 Canadian poetry slam national championship team, Capital Slam, and has featured in shows from Vancouver to St. Louis. He will represent Canada at the spoken word world championships in Paris in May. His work has appeared on CBC Radio and CTV, and he is the author of a collection of poetry entitled "An Ode to My Afro", and also has a CD of the same title.

One thought on “Child labour on the streets of Ghana: the issue with underaged street vendors

  1. Nana Amma Achireko

    It’s so common that in Ghana we don’t find anything wrong with it, it’s just how our culture is. If you’re a child you have to do whatever your family tells you to do. If you’re a Ghanaian child you usually can’t say what you want in your family, you have no voice.

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