[Opinion] 30 Years After Ratifying UN Convention: Has the Rights of Children in Ghana Been Protected?
By: Damian Avevor
Thirty years ago, Ghana made a historic commitment by being the first country in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement on childhood and the basic rights that every child is entitled to.
On every November 20, World Children Day is celebrated and the Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children's Day and is celebrated each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.
November 20 has become an important date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since 1990, World Children's Day also marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and the Convention on children's rights.
World Children's Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children's rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.
Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989 states that every child (anyone under 18) “has the right to be protected from work that threatens his or her health, education or development”.
The CRC also states that every child has a right to education while the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, ratified by 136 countries, prohibits the most extreme forms of child labour that involve children being enslaved, held in bondage, separated from their families, or exposed to serious hazards and illnesses.
ILO Convention 138 on minimum age at work, 1973, ratified by 123 countries, sets age limits for different types of work but millions of children still work for long hours on plantations in and or in factories in the world.
The theme for this year’s celebration of World Children's Day is “Investing in our future means investing in our children.” This theme is very apt as there are a lot more to be than as the country gears towards elections on December 7, 2020.
It is estimated that more than 60,000 children and youngsters between the ages of 5 to18 years, live on the streets of Ghana without care, parental guidance, shelter, and other basic necessities of life. These children have no access to education or enterprise training and are likely to grow up in poverty and remain at the periphery of society.
While it is also estimated that over 20,000 vulnerable children roam the streets of Kumasi in Ghana’s Ashanti Region without parental care, attention and livelihood, the Ghana government and Non-Governmental Organisations are also making strives to address the problems of street connected children as well as other vulnerable children towards rehabilitation.
The above statistics depict the gravitating problem of children on the streets of Kumasi and Ghana at large and this has led the Safe-Child Advocacy (SCA), formerly Street Children Project managed by a Nun of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (DC) to build a stable future for the children to live a more dignified life through sponsorship in education and skills training.
“These services have helped change the lives and fortunes of many street connected children giving them hope for a brighter future and a dignified life,” Sr. Olivia Umoh, the Director of Safe-Child Advocacy told this Writer in an interview October 9.
She explained that the SCA has rescued and offered educational scholarships to hundreds of street girls and boys and sponsored others in skills training such as hairdressing and tailoring. She added that it has also helped beneficiaries living in Kumasi and those who were assisted to relocate to the north to set up their own shops where they are now masters.
“Year after year, Safe-Child Advocacy works tirelessly to provide essential support services for vulnerable children and for the past 15 years, has impacted the lives of many of these children living in street situation with support in education and skill training and works to reintegrate them with their families,” she noted.
She stated “The lives of over 10, 000 children have already been transformed from our little efforts and your supports, while a good number of them benefitted directly, others benefitted from once-off assistance we gave them.”
According to Sr. Umoh, children on the street of Kumasi generally migrate from very poor rural communities in Ghana particularly villages from the Northern part of Ghana to the streets of Kumasi.
“Most of these children are from very poor families where parents continue to procreate without having the means to provide for their offspring,” she said, adding that “Confronted with so many children to care and provide for, these parents encourage and, in some cases, force their children to Kumasi to work and earn some income for themselves and their families.”
Surely, the future leaders of Ghana-Priests, Pastors, Engineers, Lawyers, Journalists, Medical Doctors and other professionals- would be having a long way to go as about two million Ghanaian children are also reportedly engaged in various forms of child labour.
These children who engage in various sectors of the economy including commercial, agriculture, fishing, weaving, mining, truck pushing, pottery and illegal mining (galamsey) under all circumstances are rather supposed to be in the classroom.
Their activities in a way could be equated to the slave trade in the ancient day Ghana after over 200 years of the abolishing of slave trade in Africa. As humanitarian sentiments grew in Western Europe with the Age of Enlightenment and the growth of religious groups and as European economic interests shifted slowly from agriculture to industry, a movement grew to abolish the slave trade and the practice of slavery.
Children are the future leaders of Ghana and when those who find themselves in deplorable and needy situations are not well catered for, it adds on to the already existing problems the nation is battling with.
In the dark days of COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi owned Safe-Child Advocacy, embarked on aggressive street education, encouraging children in street situation in Kumasi to return home in order to stay safe from contracting the virus.
Most girls encountered by the street workers of the Safe-Child Advocacy have been expressing fear that they may be forced into early marriages by their families if they returned home. Others have expressed fears of rejection by their families because their families expect them to work in Kumasi to support their livelihoods.
According to the authorities of Safe-Child, they (street girls) have the fear also that going home would inflict much sufferings on their families. In view of that Safe-Child field workers resolutely counselled girls who indicated interest in leaving the street and assured them of our readiness to support them all the way.
Within a period of three months from April to July 2020, Safe- Child field workers have facilitated the quitting of over 60 girls from the street of Kumasi and reintegrated them with their families and communities.
“What is particularly interesting about the intervention undertaken by the humanitarian organisation is that 60 young girls returned home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Safe-Child is able to support all 50 enroll in skill training through the COVID-19 response fund,” Sr. Olivia Umoh, Director of Safe-Child Advocacy of Ghana’s Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi again told this writer on October 3, 2020.
Interestingly, all over the world today, children’s rights, protection and welfare are very important component of any nations’ human capital development. The success story of any government depends on her commitment towards social development policies, addressing the needs of young people. Ghana is a leader in children’s welfare and protection as the first country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 but the big is question has Ghana achieved the aim of the ratification?
Over the past 30 years, a number of interventions have been made by various partners in Ghana including mandated government ministries, departments and agencies, Workers’ organization, employer’s association, NGOs and other civil society groups including the media.
Even though we are in the 21st century, the rights of children continue to be abused while child labour continues to deprive thousands of individuals especially children. This is some of the reasons why the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 adopted the Convention on the Rights of the child. Within ten years, 191 countries had ratified it, making it most widely ratified human rights instrument in history.
Unfortunately, some children aged between five and 17 years in Ghana prefer to be involved in working in the various sectors that hinges on their rights than being in school. It is sad that in the history of globalization and the introduction of Free Senior High School Programme, many Ghanaian children are deprived of education and forced into a life of misery and poverty.
On many occasions, Ghanaian Rights Organisations including an Accra-based Legal Resource Centre has warned that, despite efforts to fight child labour in the country, around 20 percent of the nation's children are engaged in labour. The problem is a lack of sufficient labour inspectors, or inspectors doing a poor job.
The government of Ghana has passed several laws and signed a number of treaties to guard against exploitative forms of child labour. Article 28 of Ghana’s1992 Constitution prohibits labour that is considered injurious to the health, education, or development of the child. Ghana has also signed three key international treaties that ban certain practices of child labour.
The provision in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana on the rights of children, led Government to the creation of Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Department of Children, Social Welfare, Special Police Unit for Child Protection.
Additionally, Ghana has passed its own laws on child labour. This includes the Children's Act of 1998 and the Labour Act of 2003, both of which address child labour in detail. The Children's Act bans all exploitative labour and echoes the 1992 Constitution's prohibition by defining this type of labour as that which denies a child of health, education or development. The Act additionally bans a number of child labour practices that it lists as "hazardous".
Interestingly, there is an ardent belief that when the educational opportunities are facilitated to access quality education and training of children and mobilising communities against child labour, Ghana will go a long way to minimize the problems of these children.
Children as a matter of interest are the treasures and assets of every country and are the ones who will hold the fore in the years to come. Therefore, talents and time must be invested in them by all and sundry as the theme of the 2020 World Day of Children suggests- “Investing in our future means investing in our children.”
Making rounds through the principal streets of major cities in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Koforidua, confirms how some children are neglected by their parents because of either they (parent) are unemployed or financially handicapped.
Some of the Children live on the streets because they were probably born there, some of the youth also flee from forced marriages, while others migrate to the urban areas in search of non-existing jobs, hence get impregnated.
As the issue of streetism keeps accelerating in the West African county of Ghana leading to extreme poverty, some former female children in street situation who sold ice-water on the streets of Kumasi in separate interviews with this writer expressed appreciation to a Safe-Child Advocacy for making their life-time dream of accessing formal education through skills training come true and for providing their basic needs- food, clothes and shelter - for free.
The children who were formerly selling “ice water” are among the 60,000 children who live on the streets of Ghana out of which over 20,000 are estimated to be roaming the streets of Kumasi.
Interestingly, thousands of these children and youngsters are between the ages of 5 to18 years who live on the streets of Ghana without care, parental guidance, shelter, and other basic necessities of life. These children have no access to education or enterprise training and are likely to grow up in poverty and remain at the periphery of society.
Narrating her former street life, 13-year old Asana Iyakana told this writer in Kumasi that “I ended up on the street after running from a woman who was maltreating me. This woman exploited me by making me sell “sachet water” on the street every day without pay,” she stated.
According to her, together with a friend, they came to the Drop-in Centre of SCA “to share our ordeal for support,” noting that “We met Sr. Olivia who told us that she could help us but had a fear that the woman who has been maltreating me will not allow us to do so.”
In the words of Asana: “The positive and encouraging words from Sr. Olivia made me to decide to go to the St. Louise Vocational Training Centre (VTC) of the SCA with Sr. Olivia so that I will be free from abuse and exploitation.”
Expressing how her life has been changed, young Iyakana, who is in primary 3 said “Safe-Child Advocacy has really changed my life by providing me access to education and safety. I am very happy because now I can read and write, a right I was denied when living with the woman who exploited me.”
Apart from the serious problems children in Ghana are facing such as school drop-out, child mortality, child labour, child trafficking, rape, defilement and non-maintenance of children, there are over 800,000 children who are not in School. There is an increasing gap between the urban child and rural child in terms of access and quality to education and the high rate of school dropout in rural areas.
Sr. Umoh told this writer that “some children who are faced with extreme poverty and abusive family situations in childhood take the initiative to come to Kumasi in the bid to work to sustain themselves. Some also intend to work to earn money to support themselves in formal education or skill training.”
However, she noted that on arrival in Kumasi, they face different types of problems including exposure to dangers and abuses of various types and are forced to perform tasks beyond their ages and capacities. “They live rough and are exposed to antisocial/criminal acts such as drugs, alcohol, commercial sex work, pilfering, fighting,” the Nigerian Nun working in Ghana lamented.
The Catholic Nun explained that children in street situations with no access to education or enterprise training and are likely to grow up in poverty and give birth to children on the street, lamenting that “Today, there are second and third generation street children; children of street mothers who are worse off because they never experienced growing up in a regular family/home setting.
Despite the efforts by the successive governments in Ghana to have a place in schools for all children, some children are however reported to have dropped out of school before they could complete their Junior High Education, a sign that the Ghanaian child indeed needs to be protected to sustain the future of the nation.
As a result of these, a lot of these children unpalatably are seen in the hot sun selling biscuits, ice water, toilet roll, toffees and other things just to make a living and the question that comes into mind to a common person is ,do our children have a future after fifty years of independence?
Ghanaians need to be guided by article 28 of the 1992 constitution that “every child has the right to same measure of special care, assistance and maintenance.” This calls for all Ghanaians especially governments, Church leaders, politicians and parents to be submissive to the Children’s Act of 1998, which prohibits anybody to subject children to inhuman treatment.
It is time Political parties and their Presidential Candidates take a critical look at this area of making the life of children a better one as one of their major priorities. Children need to be protected against all acts of violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and rape.
However, it should be the joy of Ghanaians that Government of Ghana over the years and currently has put in a number of interventions to increase access to basic education including Free Senior High School, Capitation Grants, School feeding programme, Free Textbooks/exercise books, free School uniforms, footwear for needy pupils.
Creating a society fit for the Ghanaian child means all children should get the best possible start of life and have access to quality basic education. They need to be helped to develop their individual capacities in a safe and supportive environment.
This is the outmost need for every Ghanaian to promote the physical, social, emotional, spiritual development of children to make Ghana one of the countries that have designed programmes for children on the African continent and the world at large.
Ghanaians as well as humanitarian Organisations should seriously take into consideration as Ghana approaches the general elections on December 7, 2020, to ensure that the Presidential Candidates present their child development policy to Ghanaians for all to access them on how their policy will target the 52% of the population who are children (0 -18years).
It has also become necessary for them to let Ghanaians know their vision for the Ghanaian children in order to protect the inherent dignity of children in Ghana and campaign for fair and good life for children.
The clarion call by a nation-wide coalition of NGOs led by Safe-Child Advocacy on the Government of Ghana to make the protection of child rights a priority in 2021 and beyond should be taken seriously to bring beaming smiles into the faces of deprived children
In Conclusion, parents also have the ardent role play by always showing love to their children by lifting their image, and that in my view, can be done by observing and understanding their behaviour.
As adult suicides are reducing, suicides are increasing among young people because of lack of parental love and care and Teachers have to help sustain the love of children in School if they are not receiving it from their parents or Guardians at home.
There is also the need to embrace children without bruise and their protection from all forms of abuse to make them to develop to the highest potential. The interest and dignity of the child should be a priority to parents and teachers.
In order to build a better connection between mothers and their babies, I strongly advocate for a one-year maternity leave for mothers so that they could exclusively breastfeed their babies. Alternatively, Authorities and Stakeholders should consider building Day Care Centres near Ministries, Departments and Agencies, in Schools and Hospitals as well vantage points.
This will easily enable Mothers to be close to their babies and avoid long separation between them during working hours. The baby’s interest should be paramount and not compromised.
Source: Damian Avevor//Newswatchgh