2021 World Day against Child Labour: Another chance or another shame?

World Day Against Child Labour77.jpeg 2021 World Day against Child Labour

Sat, 12 Jun 2021 Source: Kwame Mensah

As we mark this year’s World Day against Child Labour (WDACL), a new global report released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that the situation might be worsening and unless urgent and unprecedented action is taken, the global campaign against child labour could be a fiasco.

Beyond the stagnating proportions indicating that not much has changed in terms of percentages since the last count in 2016, 16.6 million more children have been “kidnapped” by the menace of labour exploitation. Now, there are 160million girls and boys in child labour.

You won’t believe it! What may be harder to accept is the fact that in our part of the world, Sub-Saharan Africa, even the percentages did not remain the same, they worsened: “there are now more children in child labour in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined”, according to the ILO-UNICEF “Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020, trends and the road forward” released this week.

Why is Africa carrying the rest of the world on our “big head”? Are we clueless; of course not! But why is the continent that has much of the world’s remaining natural resources reeling under the yoke of material poverty which is often seen as a major cause of child labour? The answer is straightforward, if complex: it is because we relatively undermine the future and leave it to chance more than work it to plan.

Ghana’s effort to eliminate child labour: a case of “champion Ata” in Sub-Saharan Africa?

For those who know, Ghana is tooted as an impressive example of a country doing so well if the fight against child labour. We have an enviable gamut of legal provisions and policy frameworks that become handy references at international conferences when good practices from our sub-region are sought after.

We have the 1992 Constitution which has copious provisions in its fifth chapter for the protection of the fundamental human rights of our children and a blatant guarantee for the right of every child to be “protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education or development” (Article 28:2).

We have the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) which devotes as many as ten sections (section 87 to 96) to the issue of child labour, including what may be seen as copious provisions on enforcement mandate given to the Social Welfare and Community Development department and the Social Services Sub-Committee of each of the over 200 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) constituting the infrastructure of local governance in Ghana.

In fact, under the Children’s Act, the Child Rights Regulations, 2002 (L.I. 1705) provides a highly deterrent sanction which if enforced would have hastened the elimination of child labour in Ghana, as they say, long ago.

According to Regulation 34 of L.I. 1705, any member of the Social Services Sub-Committee of a District Assembly or a member of the Department (of Social Welfare) in a district where there is infringement of child labour in the informal sector may summon any person to appear before the member in the course of an enquiry into child labour.

And dare you refuse this summons. The law says that “any person who fails to appear before the member commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 250 penalty units or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or to both”. Why on earth do we still have child labour co-existing with such a law?

Which social welfare and community development officer in our District Assemblies are enforcing this law? Why do we spend so much money to make laws, from national parliament to local district assemblies, and we refuse to enforce them? This is our real problem.

As a country, the latest data we have on child labour is the according the Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey (MICS) conducted by Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in 2018. It shows that over 30% of children in Ghana, that is labour 2.5 million, are in child labour. 1.2million of them are doing hazardous work that jeopardise their health, safety and morals. And we have laws in this country!

This is not a development paradox. It is a mere case of leadership challenge at all levels, past and present. We have had two national plans of actions to eliminate the worst forms of child labour since 2009. And we have virtually nothing to show in terms of actual reduction in the prevalence of this menace.

Yes, a lot of work has gone into sensitisation and moving from denial to recognition of the reality of the vileness of child labour, even if there are still hindrances in high places. But sensitisation that is not producing proportional change in behaviour in both policy makers and programme implementers as well as community people and the general public is as good as mediocre.

The marking of this year’s World Day against Child Labour should be seen as another chance to save our future. The global report provides recommendations on how to address child labour effectively.

These include provision of universal social protection, safeguarding and advancing children’s education, registering every child at birth so they have a legal identity so they can enjoy all their rights right from birth; end unhealthy gender norms discrimination, expand decent work and accelerate transition to formality, among others.

But as we well know, these well-intended recommendations will remain paper work until ordinary people and citizens “push” leaders to be accountable. That is why the theme Ghana has adopted for this year’s world day against child labour commemoration is instructive: “take stock, honour your pledge, stop child labour in Ghana now”.

It contains a call to accountability, a request for honesty and a sense of urgency that challenges all of us to improve our efforts towards the elimination of all forms of child labour in Ghana by 2025 as stipulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Columnist: Kwame Mensah