Child labour: What it is and what it is not

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story (1)Not every work done by a child is child labour. Children can be involved in activities that enhance their social integration in family and community. This is necessary for their balanced development; and is not what is classified as child labour. Child labour refers to activities done by children which are detrimental to their health education and development. In practical terms, defining child labour becomes difficult because many apply their subjective opinions as a yard stick. Often such opinions may be erroneous and where the opinion leaders are prominent, their wrong views may mislead many. Again, there are some who imply that because they were involved in child labour and have survived, it is not a problem. For one child that survives exploitative work, many other child labourers are abused and deprived of their fundamental human rights and future economic opportunities. Therefore, it is important to maintain standardized and notions of child labour so we can properly identify it and address it effectively. There is a global consensus on what child labour is. The concept is clearly expatiated in international instruments such as ILO Conventions 138 and 182. In Article 28: 2 of the 1992 Constitution, child labour is clearly proscribed, to wit: “every child has the right to be protected from work that threatens his health education and development”. The following illustrations are provided to enhance clarification of what child labour is not and what it actually is:

Scenario 1:
Kofi is a 14 year old in a rural community. He is enrolled in basic school but does not attend school frequently because he has to help on the family farm during planting and harvest seasons. Is Kofi engaged in child labour?

Scenario 2:
Amina is a 16 year old who has completed basic school and needs some money to support her parents send her to Senior high school. Her auntie offers to help by bringing her to Accra and gives her out to a market woman who hires out Amina to carry heavy loads (kayayo) for traders. The money she earns is given to her madam with the hope that at the end of her stay she will be given what she needs to go to SHS. The market woman uses some of the money and also gives some to Amina’s auntie every month. Is Amina in child labour?

Scenario 3:
Obeng is 15 years old and in JHS 3. He is an orphan and has been living with his grandma from a tender age. He works in a galamsey site, from where he gets more than enough money to take care of his grandma and two siblings. He is not consistent with school. His intention is to forget about school after JHS. He wants to own a galamsey operations. Is Obeng in child labour?

Scenario 4:
Kyewaa is a 13 years old primary six pupil. After school each day she goes to the market to help her Mum do some more selling. The market is not too far and she does not stay too long before returning home to do her homework and help fix supper. Is Kyewaa in child labour?

The best way to appreciate the concept of child labour may be from the perspective of international instruments and national legislation and policies. International instruments are adopted after rigorous validation processes which lead to a general consensus among nations. That is why it is not fair to say things like “some people sit somewhere and make laws for other countries”. International instruments, such as the ILO Conventions on child labour are a reflection of cross-national consensus.

According to ILO convention 138 on minimum age, each country shall specify a minimum age for admission to employment or work. This age shall not be less than the age of completion of basic or compulsory education; and in any case shall not be less than 15 years. In Ghana, according to the labour law, the minimum age for admission to employment or work is 15 years. This means that anybody less than 15 years engaged in employment or work is in child labour. Employment or work refers to economic activity. Economic activity refers to any activity that brings economic benefit such as income or otherwise. The matter becomes a little delicate when the economic structure of a country is so informal that it is difficult to separate “economic socialization” from “economic activity”. But this dichotomy may be important because in the setting of many developing countries, children socialize and integrate into their families and communities through activities that may be of economic benefit to themselves, family and community. From this perspective; it may be useful to further interrogate the practical import of ILO Convention 138 on minimum age for admission into employment or work. However, for now it is clear that any child below 15 years admitted into employment or work is in child labour. There are almost two million children in child labour today, according to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) child labour survey reported in 2014. This is not the best for our country.

Apart from general child labour which is largely determined by large, there is also what referred to as Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL). This is elaborated in ILO Convention 182. Each Member State which ratifies Convention 182 commits to take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.

There are four categories of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL). The first refers to all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts. Slavery may include conditions under which one loses one or more of his fundamental human rights. The second category of WFCL refers to the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Thirdly, the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular fir the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in relevant international treaties. Forth, work which by its nature or circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. The specific activities under this category may vary from country to country and so the types of work hazardous to the health safety or morals of the child are determined by each country. In determining hazardous work, the ILO recommends that consideration should be given the following types of work: work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, underwater, at dangerous heights and in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transportation of heavy loads; work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health; work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours, or during the night or work where the child is unnecessarily confined to the premises of the employer. In Ghana, there is a Hazardous Activity Framework (HAF) developed by the Ministry of Employment and labour relations (MELR) which spells out the specificities. Some of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) identified for elimination under the National Plan of Action (NPA) include child rafficking, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC),mining and quarrying, fishing, commercial agriculture, domestic servitude, ritual servitude (e.g. trokosi), manual head porterage (kaya/kayayo).

Ghana has ratified both Conventions 138 on minimum age and 182 on worst forms of child labour. Yet one out of every five children is in child labour. There is wide ignorance, denial and wrong justification of the menace, even among prominent persons and national leaders. This can be reversed if extensive awareness and education is made on the concept of child labour. healthy training of our children to balance academic education with practical education and vocational skills is what our culture teachers us. Child labour is not part of our culture in Ghana.

By SOMOPAC (Social Mobilisation Partners against Child Labour)