Tag Archives: UNICEF

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.

A Week in Wa

The Mgmene Ladiera Women's Group, Tanina community members, Shehu, Ashley and me

Ashley and I spent most of last week doing field work and interviews in Wa, the Upper West region of Ghana, while Kallee did interviews in Accra. Despite the fact that our returning bus broke down in the middle of nowhere, we were stranded for six hours, had to sleep on the side of the road and travel the remaining six hours back to Kumasi in a tro-tro (or minivan) stuffed way over capacity with people and luggage, the trip was very fruitful, inspiring and fulfilling. We are forever indebted to Vera, Shehu and Sadu from the World Food Programme (WFP) for arranging our stay, booking our visits and interviews, setting us up at a lovely guesthouse and driving us around in their marvellous UN/WFP jeep. Every day, we visited a number of remote villages and communities and got firsthand accounts of the people’s successes and challenges, specifically regarding education, and economic progress.

Northern Ghana has the highest prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency in the country, especially among women and children. According to the WFP, approximately 22 percent of children under five are underweight, while 59 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are anaemic. To confront the issue, WFP and UNICEF, with funding from CIDA, started the joint project “Tackling Malnutrition in Northern Ghana,” using the WFP’s promising milling and fortification pilot programmes as a blueprint.  There are at least 18 women’s groups involved in community-based milling and fortification, with some 720 women benefitting from the programme. The women are given milling equipment, micronutrient fortificants and basic business training to sell cereals to the community for a minimal profit, increasing their ability to self-sustain.

We met the Mgmene Ladiera (“By God’s Will”), a women’s group in the Tanina community our first day in Wa. The group was formed in 2007 and has been in operation ever since. Originally, their workshop was used as a kindergarten classroom where a local health centre was assisting the students with donated food. The women of Tanina saw the benefits their children were enjoying from the access to good, nutritious food, so, along with the guidance from the WFP, they decided to get involved with the project to help their community and to improve the quality of their lives. The WFP gave the women their first milling machine and with the profits they made from selling fortified maize, guinea corn and flour, they were able to buy a second machine. They were also able to open up a bank account with the Credit Union and currently boast a combined savings of 1600 Ghana Cedis (or $2240 CDN). Most importantly, the fortified foods they produce are a vital source of protein for the community members and have helped them regain their health.

The Mgmene Ladiera ladies and one of their milling machines.

However, the Mgmene Ladiera women’s group still face some challenges. They would like to expand their operations to include shea butter production and rice de-hashing, but are struggling to access the funds to buy the necessary equipment. As it stands, WFP is their only donor, but even their funding is currently being phased out as the aim of their assistance was meant to enable the women to become economically autonomous. The group, made up of 63 members, must also take on other jobs to subsidise their incomes since they work at the mill on a rotational basis of only one person assisting the operator per day. Most of the women in the group support households with an average of eight to 20 people.

Although the women are empowered to help themselves and their neighbours, they are still very poor and do not have the money for vital things like furthering their children’s education. “We want to help the community,” one of the ladies says in Wale, the local dialect translated into English, “but we need more support from NGOs.”

A drying block for maize and guinea corn.

Paving the Road for Development

WFP Supplementary Feeding Centre at Biihe Primary School; 282 children of kindergarten class 1 and 2 receive a micro-nutrient lunch each school day

Following our interviews in Accra, Laura and I decided to travel to Wa (in the Upper West Region) this week to do field work for our CIDA assignments. We headed to the bus station in Kumasi Sunday morning after being advised by a local transit worker to arrive early in order to secure our seats. Eight hours later, the bus was finally filled to capacity (more passengers joined us along route to sit on stools in the aisles) and we embarked on our journey on the only main road that connects the three Northern regions (the North, Upper East and Upper West) to the rest of Ghana. We arrived six hours later in the sleeping town, where late night taxi drivers, roaming dogs and bleating goats were the only signs of life. We settled into our guesthouse by the local air strip and rested for our upcoming days of filming, interviewing and new experiences.

Laura and I with Shehu and Sadu of the WFP in front of the vehicle we used to access some of the remote communities in the Upper West region.

The next few days were packed. We were fortunate enough to be driven around by Abdul Karim Shehu, an Upper West officer of the World Food Programme (WFP) and his driver Sadu, to rural districts where the organization was running its current assistance programs in joint effort with UNICEF and CIDA funding. We visited various schools and communities, and witnessed how supplementary feeding programs, child welfare clinics, and milling and fortification projects were ensuring access to education, health services and acting as a source of income for many children, women and their families.

According to Vera Boohene, a Reports/Information Assistant at WFP Ghana, close to 50% of the food insecure population in Ghana is located within the three northern regions. Throughout Ghana’s colonial rule and even post-independence, the regions have never been the focus of major economic growth and development initiatives. Expansion has been a slow-moving process and a variety of other factors (natural disasters, refugee resettlement, and the instability of the global economy) have affected these areas considerably. As a result, many people whose live livelihoods depend mainly on subsistent and labour intensive agricultural practices are deprived of their basic needs and left vulnerable to conditions of poverty, malnutrition and inequality.

Training and donations of milling equipment and skills by WFP and CIDA have allowed these women of Tanina to operate their own business and earn extra income for their families and community.

After speaking with local teachers, school children, farmers and women’s groups, and meeting with government officials and representatives from other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it became clear that aid programs and development projects are helping to improve their conditions. The joint collaboration and active participation of development partners have been essential in the effectiveness of these programs. However, delayed construction, insufficient funds and the lack of resources, infrastructure and means of transport (most communities are only accessible by long stretches of uneven, dirt roads) are some of the reoccurring challenges these communities and their district governments continue to face.

With the presence of a vast and lush landscape of natural resources in the region mixed with the community’s eagerness for improvement and engagement, the potential for further growth and progress is promising. More attention and support for these people and these regions are greatly needed. Currently, the road to development is still a long and bumpy path.

Ghana Health Services (with WFP support) perform monthly health checks in rural communities

Ghana Health Services (with WFP support) perform monthly health checks in rural communities