Tag Archives: child labour

When Household Chores become Human Rights Abuses

A young girl carries a load on her head in Kejetia Market

At eleven years old, Thema, a native of Kumasi, hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. Currently, however, she is employed wandering between taxis and tro-tros at rush hour, carrying packs of ice water on her head and selling them for 10 pesewas apiece. Though in the mornings she attends school, her afternoons are spent maneuvering through traffic with practiced ease; she has been doing this for four years.

Child labour is on the rise in Ghana, and particularly in urban areas.  According to UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World’s Children Report, 34% of Ghanaian children aged 5–14 years are engaged in child labour. That figure is up from 23% in 2003, as recorded in a Ghana Statistical Survey. In Kumasi, 8% of children engage in regular work, though its harmful impacts are widely acknowledged.

“It infringes on the rights of children, it affects their health, and it may result in injury,” explained Emilia Allan, a Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Ghana. “It prevents and interferes with their education, and it leads to other protection concerns such as sexual exploitation, violence, [and] child trafficking,” she said in an interview with me for Ultimate Radio.

But many families in Ghana must depend on their young ones for financial support, and the government does not take a zero-tolerance stance on it. Instead, the recently launched National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, based on the ILO Convention No. 182, recognizes that immediately eliminating the phenomenon is not feasible, and aims to protect those children who do work from physical, moral, and mental harm. And though the minimum age of employment is 15 years, the 1998 Ghana Children’s Act in fact states that children aged 13 and older may engage in some forms of light work.

[pullquote]“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour.”[/pullquote]

The legislation is therefore realistic and rational, but does it go far enough to protect working children from harm? Should it apply to those engaged in household work – cooking, cleaning, running errands, or caring for younger siblings? What about children like Thema, who work part-time and attend school on a shift system? Are they considered child labourers, and protected under the law?

“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour,” Allan explained.

“The Ghanaian Children’s Act ensures that every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education, or development,” she said. “So if a child is . . . going to sell and then going on the shift system, the child goes to school tired and sleepy. That is affecting the child’s education, because it is not performing,” she explained, adding, “They don’t have time to do their homework.”

She also noted that, when a child is given a load to carry on her head, though considered light labour, it can affect her physical growth and pose a threat to her development.

Legally, then, children are protected from doing any kind of work – whether “light” or “hazardous” – that might cause harm.  And as part-time and light labour can inhibit a child’s development, these should be regulated as well.  So why is child labour still rampant?

According to Mr. Jacob Achulu, the Ashanti Regional Director for the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, the root of the problem is poverty.

“The legal framework is there,” he said.  “The problem is the enforcement, and I think it’s because poverty is widespread in most parts of our country. So the ILO interventions and NGO interventions are welcome, but there is the need to have sustainable activities that will make sure the families are able to keep their children in school.”

He pointed to some district-level programs in the Ashanti region, designed to work with the parents of child labourers and help them earn additional income, rather than sending their children to work.

So while the government acknowledges that, for many families, children are important breadwinners, and continues to pursue a pragmatic approach to reducing child labour, it might be prudent to develop new ways of addressing household poverty and stymying the problem at its source.

When beggars should be choosers – How the promise of remuneration is heading off freedom of movement and free choice of employment in Malawi

Not long after cutting their teeth, North American children are encouraged to call forward their dreams and consider the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The kindergartners’ query is not a foreign concept in Malawi – in fact, up to December 2010 Blantyre Newspapers Limited’s (BNL) Saturday paper Malawi News regularly ran a “When I Grow Up” piece encouraging parents to help their children picture and pledge their ambition for the future.

At the same time the query is not yet ubiquitous – as a country that ranks in the lowest group on the Human Development Index (171 out of 187 countries in 2011), problems such as poverty and underdevelopment mean that for many, filling their stomach is difficult enough to do without considering the most fulfilling way to do it.  And for 21-year-old Alinafe Phiri and her friends at the Nkhata Bay boma, it means that when you ask what they want, they simply tell you how it is instead.

According to Phiri, it isn’t uncommon for girls to be taken from their homes in Nkhata Bay to “faraway places” where they work as house girls.  Others are taken from their homes to work in bars.

“This is considered normal because they are paid something at the end of the day,” she said.  “Isn’t it normal for someone to be taken from their homes for work in faraway areas?  What about those that leave their villages and work elsewhere in cities or otherwise?”

No mention is made of the use of force implicated in being taken to faraway places for work – a form of human trafficking – or of unrealized universal human rights to free movement and free choice of employment.

On May 16 Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre to discuss where and why human trafficking occurs in Malawi. Photo by Karissa Gall.

To raise awareness of such rights abuses, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre on May 16.  Three panellists were on hand: Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) District Manager for Nkhata Bay Wezzie Mtonga, Nkhata Bay Police Station Community Policing Coordinator Brown Ngalu and NCA Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman.

During the discussion, Mtonga said that the area is a “hotspot of instances of human trafficking” for the purposes of labour, sexual exploitation, organ removal, or domestic servitude, and that Malawian women like Phiri are the most vulnerable to being victimised “because of their vulnerability when it comes to economic issues.”

“One of the reasons people fall victim to human trafficking is they are looking for greener pastures, and when they go there, things are different,” she said.  “Malawians are vulnerable and they don’t have access to (anti-trafficking) laws.”

Osman, one of the commissioners involved in the drafting of an anti-trafficking bill in 2007, took the opportunity to stress that “the bill is ready, cabinet approved it, so what we need is parliamentarians to discuss it and pass it into law to give us a framework on what should be done and who should be doing what.”

Norwegian Church Aid Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman. Photo by Karen Msiska.

“The problem is huge, it is diverse,” she said.  “We need awareness, we need a lot of capacity building not only for the police but other service providers, and we also do need proper data collecting mechanisms.

“We do not have people coming to report on cases of human trafficking because they have been not been trained to collect data, they have not been trained to identify the victims; they have not been trained to identify the traffickers,” she continued.  “Even our parliamentarians also need training on these issues.

“A new cabinet means that new people are in place.  We need to put pressure on them to tackle these issues.”

In the interim, Osman cited Section 27 of the Malawi Constitution, which prohibits slavery, as a standing protection against human trafficking or “modern-day slavery.”  She also cited the Employment Act, the Penal Code, the Corrupt Practices Act, Immigrations policies and the Corrupt Practices Act as statutes that criminalise certain transactions appearing in the various forms of trafficking.


Despite Malawi having adopted the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in 2005 and making progress towards the guarantee of protections for children with the launch of a universal and compulsory birth registration process this March, the International Trade Union Confederation 2011 report for the World Trade Organization on Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Malawi found that, “Trafficking is a problem and is conducted mainly for the purposes of forced labour for males and commercial sexual exploitation for females, as well as child trafficking which has also been steadily rising.”

“Typically the traffickers deceive their victims by offering them false promises of employment or education in the country of destination.  In Malawi there are also estimated to be between 500 and 1500 women and children who are victims of internal trafficking,” reads the report.

“In 2009 the authorities arrested and prosecuted child traffickers who intended to deliver boys to cattle herders.  Other usual destinations of internally trafficked persons are the tobacco plantations, domestic servitude, and small businesses.”

The United States Department of State 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report for Malawi further found that while government “is making significant efforts” the country still “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“Adults in forced prostitution or forced labour and children exploited in domestic service and prostitution still did not receive adequate attention and the government prosecuted no such offences during the reporting period,” reads the report.

“While one trafficking offender received a short prison sentence, most convictions resulted in sentences of fines or out-of-court settlements with compensation to victims, both of which failed to provide an adequate deterrent.”

While comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement statistics were unavailable, the report found that some individual districts provided data on their actions, totalling 18 prosecutions, 11 of which concluded with convictions.

“Although the government prosecuted and convicted offenders using existing legislation, only one of nine convicted offenders served jail time and sentences varied widely across district courts,” the report continues.  “Additionally, labour inspectors and child protection officers were trained to seek remuneration for workers in labour dispute cases – including forced labour – rather than to refer to law enforcement for prosecution.”

According to the report, “the government’s continued failure to seek criminal prosecution of forced labour offenses with significant prison sentences hinders an effective response to Malawi’s trafficking problem.”

In Malawi, the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Human Trafficking, led by the Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Development; the National Steering Committee on Orphans and Vulnerable Children; and the National Steering Committee on Child Labour have responsibility for trafficking issues.


Individuals who are aware of any incident of human trafficking in Malawi can contact the YONECO anonymous National Help Line for assistance by calling 8000-1234.  YONECO encourages victims of human trafficking to call the help line as the centre will mobilise to free them and provide counselling and support.


With files from BNL-Mzuzu Bureau Chief Karen Msiska

Ending Ghanaian child labour

A girl sells water while, behind her, other children play soccer. An estimated 6.36 million children in Ghana work.

Working children are everywhere in Accra. They collect the fares for trotros, mini-vans turned into buses. They stand in intersections, balancing baskets full of water sachets on their head. They sell bundles of plantains in the market. Although I’m usually unable to guess a Ghanaian’s age within a decade, these workers are clearly children.

Child labour is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Child Labour Report. Troublingly, one in four children in the region is a child labourer. Although the Ghanaian numbers are better than this average, the problem is endemic to the country.

“Ghana has made some progress, but the challenges are always there. We can do more,” said Stephen McClelland, the Chief Technical Advisor for the Ghana Project of the International Labour Organization.

According to a 2003 Ghana Child Labour Survey, an estimated 6.36 million children, between five and 17 years old, are engaged in economic activities. That means that half of children in rural areas work, and 1/5 of urban children work. However, not all this “child work” is considered child labour – labour performed by a child that directly impedes the child’s education and full development, jeopardizing his or her physical, mental, or moral well-being.

Twenty per cent of all children in Ghana, however, are involved in work that meets this definition of child labour. They work mostly in agriculture, sales, and general labour, but also in ritual servitude or commercial sexual exploitation. Out of these child labourers, over 242,000 work in conditions deemed “hazardous.”

According to McClelland, fighting child labour is about protecting children’s dignity, but is also about national development.

Eliminating child labour is “important for countries that are developing. If you ignore the development of your children, then you are condemning your country to difficult development challenges ahead,” he said. Working children perpetuate a cycle of uneducation and poverty.

The International Labour Organization has declared June 12 the World Day Against Child Labour. In anticipation, Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare outlined their way of combating the problem: the “National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour” (NPA).

The plan admits that Ghana has a problem, but also proudly mentions that Ghana has ratified both the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The NPA strives to honour these conventions and eliminate the “worst forms” of child labour by 2015 through enforcing labour laws, improving the education system, extending “social protection measures,” and developing standard procedures and protocols in dealing with child-labour cases.

McClelland says it’s a good plan, but needs to be turned into an action plan. And then into results.

“One thing that has struck me is that Ghana has gone a long way. It has good experiences with building up a policy and legal framework against child labour. I am encouraged [by the progress], but I’m also a realist.  We haven’t got all the solutions,” he said.

He added that, in order to decisively end child labour, Ghana need to make high quality schools readily available and has to better redistribute its new found wealth.

“Undoubtedly child labour is caused by poverty, and some of the best of ways of overcoming poverty is to have a good, comprehensive, social protective system,” he said.

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

The little business people of Bolgatanga

Underage head porters in northern Ghana sell water sachets and fruit on the streets. Others, like the girl above with a barbeque, help to move heavy goods. Photo by Hez Holland.

Street children who hawk goods in Bolgatanga, the capital of Ghana’s Upper East region, have a hierarchy to climb if they want to make money.

At the bottom rung, initiates usually begin by helping people carry heavy goods, especially around the city’s busy bus and taxi station.

They then graduate to selling things like sachets of water, I’m told. But it’s stuff like oranges that bring in bigger profits.

You can usually buy seven or six orange for fifty peswas, which equates roughly to $0.30 CAD, says Azure Akolgo, 13. Then, a vendor can resell three or four oranges for fifty peswas, he adds, which doubles their profit.

Azure and his friends tell me more about the business of selling goods on the street: banding together to help each other out, placing orders with the dealers who travel out of town and the risk of selling perishable food.

It’s all kind of astonishing—you have to remind yourself that these kids are all preteens.

But the crash course in business these children received from spending their childhood on the street is pretty much the only good thing about it. They’re robbed of the horizons school provides and are left in an endless cycle of selling cheap goods.

Aisha Imora, 12, tells me what put her to work in the first place.

“We were not getting food to eat,” she said. “That’s why we decided to go to the streets and see if we could see somebody on the streets carrying heavy things, maybe we can help that person and that person can give us some money so we can eat and feed ourselves.”

She was five at the time, she said. Her father died and her mother also sold goods on the street.

But today, the children I’m speaking to are far away from their usual haunts.

They’re getting their first field trip ever—a tour of the Vea-Gowrie dam and pumping station, which provides water to the northern city Bolgatanga. The trip has been organized by a British child rights NGO, Afrikids.

For kids who have only attended school sporadically, if at all, it’s a stark departure from their normal lives.

And they don’t pass up the opportunity. The dam’s staff are peppered with questions as they head through the wet and noisy pumping station.

Azure, who told me earlier he wanted to become an engineer when he grows up, asks questions you’d expect from a full-time student.

“What happens when water gets in the pump?” he asks, and the pumping expert explains how to prevent water getting into the system.

The kids are all part of a project called “The School of Night Rabbits,” a program that offers night classes twice a week by Afrikids. The children sell goods during the day and go to class at night.

It’s become a stepping stone for children trying to escape the necessity of working on the street.

Azure’s mind is in full bloom during the field trip, proving he has more potential than selling fruit. In a world stratified by wealth, school is often the only ladder that crosses through the hierarchy.

Youth migration: Child labour in Malawi

Video and text by Denis Calnan

In Malawi today, jobs for children are shifting; traditionally, underage youth were employed on tea and tobacco estates. But now many are working in urban centres, hawking goods on city streets and in markets, according to a children’s rights advocate, Ken Williams Mhango, country director of the African Network for Protection and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

In this video, Malawian journalist, Terence Mwamlima, and Journalists for Human Rights reporter Denis Calnan investigate the presence of children in two urban markets. The report reveals that when child labour might is minimized in some sectors, it often increases in others.