Child Labor’s Grip on Youth Education and Well-being

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By Latifatu Hamidu

Exploring the rising numbers and hidden struggles of child labor, this report sheds light on the toll it takes on education and the overall well-being of Ghana’s young population.

In 2013, a disturbing story broke that encapsulated the harsh reality of child labor. The destiny of Janet, a spirited 13-year-old from the northern fringes of Ghana, took an unexpected turn when she was dispatched to toil on a farm ruled by a cruel hand. A thread tied her to this laborious existence—her mother’s ailing health: Janet’s parents, grappling with the weight of medical bills, made a heart-wrenching decision – education was a luxury they couldn’t afford, and the fields beckoned.

The teenager’s roots were embedded in a region bereft of industrial prosperity. In this desolate pocket of the country, parents, confronted with the unyielding grip of destitution, find solace in sending their offspring to toil in the fertile soils of southern cocoa farms.

For Janet, and countless others like her, school became an elusive dream, eclipsed by the necessity to contribute to familial survival. The vicious cycle perpetuates as children, once sent back from the farms, face the prospect of being shipped off to distant regions, their innocence overshadowed by the shadow of exploitation.

In Janet’s story, the haunting echoes of child labor reverberate across Ghana’s socioeconomic landscape, painting a vivid tableau of the sacrifices made at the altar of survival in the face of adversity as far as the capital city.

In Accra, where the vibrant energy of the city is palpable, there exists a darker underbelly that continues to persist. Despite ongoing efforts to combat this pervasive issue, many children in Accra find themselves entangled in work far beyond their years, shedding light on the persistent challenges that cast shadows over their youth.

Rising Numbers and Hidden Struggles

Recent reports reveal a concerning trend of child labor in various sectors across Accra, ranging from small-scale manufacturing units to street vending and domestic service. According to UNICEF GHANA, of all children in Ghana aged 5 to17 years, about 21 per cent are involved in child labor, and 14 per cent are engaged in hazardous forms of labor. This is twice as common in rural areas. Poverty-stricken families, grappling with economic hardships, often find themselves compelled to prioritize survival over the education and well-being of their children. The consequences are stark, as young lives are thrust into labor, deprived of the fundamental right to a proper childhood.

The Toll on Education and Well-being

Child labor takes a toll not only on the economic prospects of these children but also on their education and overall well-being. Many are forced to forego the opportunity for an education, perpetuating a cycle of poverty that becomes increasingly difficult to break. The physical and psychological impact on these young shoulders is profound, raising concerns about their health, emotional development, and future prospects.

According to Essays on Child Labour and Schooling in Ghana by Rebecca Nana Yaa Ayifah, work has a detrimental effect on class attendance. Every additional hour of child labour is associated with a reduction in class attendance of about ten minutes. The effect is higher for girls than boys. One hour of child labour is associated with almost 20 minutes’ decrease in girls’ class attendance. This result supports other studies such as Khanam and Ross (2011) that found that work has an adverse effect on school enrollment.

Governmental Response and NGO Initiatives

In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which defines children’s rights to protection, education, health care, shelter, and good nutrition. ILO 182 Convention No. 182 requires countries to take immediate, effective and time-bound measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.

In response to this persistent challenge, the Ghanaian government has taken steps to strengthen existing child labor laws. To enhance enforcement mechanisms such as on the World Day against Child Labour, the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) launched the new five-year Ghana Accelerated Action Plan Against Child Labour 2023-2027. However, the road to eradicating child labor is complex, requiring a multifaceted approach. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as ACE, ICI, Rainforest Alliance and Solidaridad are actively engaged in raising awareness, providing resources, and creating community support systems to address the root causes of child labor and offer viable alternatives for affected families.

A Call for Collective Action

As Accra grapples with the shadows of child labor, there is a growing call for collective action. Stricter enforcement of existing laws, coupled with initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and enhancing educational opportunities, are crucial components of the solution. The resilience of these young lives hinges on a concerted effort from the community, government, and NGOs to dismantle the complex web of factors that perpetuate child labor.

ACE has helped many children in Ghana, including John, 14. John (not his real name), moved to the Brong-Ahafo area from northern Ghana with his family in 2018. Rather than going to school he immediately began working in the cocoa fields. He dropped out in his third year of elementary school, and has never been back to school since. His parents had never been to school before, and told us that they “didn’t know what school was.”  Eventually, members of the village’s Child Protection Committee persuaded his parents to send him to school, and John returned to the fifth-grade class.

In Accra, where progress and challenges coexist, the persistent issue of child labor serves as a stark reminder that the journey towards a brighter future requires unyielding commitment and collaborative action. It is a call to ensure that the promise of a better tomorrow extends to every child, unburdened by the shadows of exploitation.

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