Today I had the pleasure of presenting the World’s Children’s’ Prize for the rights of the child to Ghana Education Service in Winneba. This provided me the opportunity to reflect on the importance of collaboration. The reason that I took the award to the education service was to recognize the great work the department had done advancing the rights of the child in our district. Alone my organisation, Challenging Heights, can only reach a certain number of vulnerable children. In partnership, however, our reach becomes boundless! For example, in building the capacity of the education service to train teachers to empower children to understand their rights, tens of thousands of children are reached. Furthermore such partnership helps the Ghana education service to realize its legislative mandate of ensuring all children are engaged in school.
Challenging Heights students came top at the just concluded ICT spelling bee organized by the Arkcity-Link foundation at the central campus Amu hall in the Efutu Municipal Assembly.
The spelling bee competition which has been in existence for two years was graced by the Board members of the Ark Foundation, Head of ICT department, University of education Winneba, Chief of Sankor, opinion leaders as well as heads of schools.
The spelling bee however, involved nine schools and Emmanuel Okyere and Felix Nyarko of Challenging Heights won the first stage and ultimately won the grand finals respectively. As a result of the victory, Challenging Heights School will be representing Efutu Municipality in Cape Coast at the Regional ICT spelling bee competition coming up soon.
Arkcity – Link Foundation is dedicated to providing Computer literacy education to all the young people in the region. It plans to bring Information Technology to the door steps of these people thus connecting rural Winneba to the rest of Ghana.
It is salient to note that ICT Education is important for nation Building, and plays an important role in all sectors of the economy, hence there is the need to ensure massive support in ICT Education in the country
Child trafficking in the Lake Volta fishery of Ghana is one of the prominent issues receiving attention from various governments and civil society organizations in Africa. This is due to the adverse impact the situation has on the children’s development.
Lake Volta, one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, was created by the construction of Ghana’s Akosombo dam in the 1960s. Although the lake provided a bountiful supply of fish for many years, fish stocks have been declining in recent years, making it more difficult for fishermen to earn a living. Lake Volta is the largest reservoir by surface area in the world and it is estimated that the reservoir provides 90 percent of the national freshwater fish productions.
Children provide a cheap source of labor and their tiny fingers prove useful for picking the fish that are captured in the nets’ webbing, as the holes get increasingly smaller to catch smaller fish. Hence, children become a convenient tool for labour on the lake.
Poverty plays a major role in fueling this problem. Other complex factors such as cultural norms, migration and institutional failures contribute to the problem. These boys and girls between the ages of six and seventeen years perform tasks such as fishing, mending of nets, diving and household chores. They are made to work under extreme harsh conditions, waking up very early in the mornings at 3am and going to bed as late as 11pm, and this continue seven days in a week, with no access to education or medical care. These children are constantly tortured and are denied sufficient food.
A survey conducted by Daily Guide indicated that the problem is being compounded due to parents’ eagerness to literally sell off their children to fishermen for money.
In the past, children were sent to live with relatives in hope of learning a trade. This cultural tradition has become distorted, resulting in child exploitation and enslavement. Today many Ghanaian fishermen on the lake are paying parents an average of GHC100 to enslave their children.
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), 60 percent of the world’s 215 million child laborers work in the agricultural sector—comprising activities in agriculture, livestock-raising, forestry, and fishing. In Ghana, one in six children aged six to 14 are involved in child labor.
The Children’s Act (Act 560) frowns on any work done by children that is likely to harm their health, safety, or morals as categorized by the ILO. This is the kind of work Lake Volta’s child fishers are exposed to, among the “worst forms of child labor.”
In 1999, the ILO estimated that 1 in 8 children in Ghana worked between the ages of 10 and 14. Many children work as unpaid workers on farms, including cocoa plantations. Children have also been found working in mines, quarries, and in fishing, street vending, and domestic labor.
Ghana has ratified several international conventions that establish standards to protect children from exploitative work, including the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention (C138) and the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (C182). It also has national laws restricting child labor, but the laws are not vigorously enforced. The minimum age for work in Ghana is 15 years; 18 years for hazardous work. However, the practice of children working is commonly accepted in Ghanaian society.
In 2010, the Government of Ghana took measures to tackle the exploitation of children by adopting a National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Ghana. The plan provides a framework for a significant reduction of the worst forms of child labor in the nation by 2015. Yet Ghanaian children remain engaged in the worst forms of child labour. In cocoa and fishing production, hundreds of children work, many reporting injuries sustained while using machetes, carrying heavy load, diving and removing fishes.
Since 2003, Challenging Heights has rescued over one thousand children from the Lake Volta alone, and undertaken a child labor remediation efforts in 20 cocoa-growing communities. The organization has undertaken several prevention programs such as support to nearly 10,000 vulnerable children in schools, establishment of community child protection committees, and the support for women economic empowerment. All efforts are aimed at sustaining the fight against child labor in Ghana.
While education is compulsory and free in Ghana, the fees for uniforms and books provide a barrier for many families in fishing and farming communities. Poverty, views on education, and social customs combine to make rural families vulnerable to traffickers who come with promises to provide children with opportunities to learn a trade and receive payment when the “training” period ends. The children get deceived, and they end up being victims of torture and other forms of labor abuse.
In June 2000, Ghana ratified ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Convention 182). Thirteen years down, there remains much to be done in spite of significant achievements. We need to intensify pressure on government to fulfill its constitutional obligation by taking practical steps for the protection of all children.
There are 800 million unemployed adults in the world; and yet, the number of working children is estimated to be at over 300 million. Replacing these working children with their mostly unemployed parents would result in higher family incomes (since adults are generally paid better), and the resulting rise in production costs would have little impact on exports sales.
National Plan of Action on the Elimination of Child Labour in Ghana targets 2015 as the time by which Worst Forms of Child Labour would have been reduced to the barest minimum. Whether this can be achieved or not very much depends on the progress made on the educational front. At the end of the day, the effort we are putting into the elimination of child labour in Ghana, through the implementation of the National Plan of Action should not go down the drain. 2015 is not very far away and we must be ready to give a good account to the children of our future.
There are one million children outside education. Opportunities should be created for these children to be educated and not only be in school but to stay in school. There is need for transparency in resourcing schools and deprived communities should be given priority when providing resources such as text books, teachers posting and monitoring observation of schools. These is an important step towards reducing the number of child laborers and as well achieving the national plan of action.
It is a great honor to have received the 2013 World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. It was with great gratitude that I was able to accept the award from the Queen of Sweden last week.
I am indebted to the organizers of what is the biggest child rights and democracy program in the World; I sincerely thank them not just for the recognition that they have given to me and my organisation, Challenging Heights, but also for the empowerment they have given millions of children, across the globe, to learn and advocate for their rights!
A Challenging Heights beneficiary put it well at a child –led press conference that was simultaneously organized in Ghana for the announcement of the award;
“As a Challenging Heights student I am very proud of Senior James receiving this important award,” says Abigail, 14 years of Winneba. “On behalf of all Challenging Heights beneficiaries I would like thank all the millions of children, not just in Ghana, but across the globe who participated in the World’s Childrens’ Prize program, as well as the adults that made it possible.”
Now back in Ghana I am excited to be able share my experience with a range of audiences.
Please see below some of the many different media stories, from around the world, that the award has attracted.