Charcoal burning has become a major economic activity in the Krachi East and West Districts of the Volta Region. It is considered a good alternative for the very poor in rural areas of Borae, Bombomdi and Chinchini.
The increasing demand for the solid fuel by city dwellers, mainly for cooking, has kept girls between ages seven and 15 out of school.
Its production and marketing is impacting social life negatively with the girls, charcoal merchants, going round all market centres in the districts for the lucrative business.
Kete-Krachi Market in the Krachi West District appears to be the biggest trading centre. The teenage brokers arrive here a day before the market day to solicit for clients-indicating they are out of the school system, dropped out or even never enrolled.
An ugly spectacle, which should dumbfound social workers is how the girls are involved in offloading sacks of charcoal from the top of vehicles with great difficulties, some with babies strapped at their backs.
It is also worrying to see them sleeping in the open, on sacks of charcoal, at the mercy of the weather and male “scavengers” in the market, with regular reports of sexual abuse.
It is a quarter of an hour to 2000 hours, but the Lakeside Kete-Krachi Market looks like mid-day. Human and vehicular traffic is heavy everywhere-fish market, yam market and of course, the charcoal market brimming.
Shouts of “agoo, agoo” could be heard all over with different kinds of tricycles, including “Mahama cambu”-a mini-taxi, meandering, making brisk businesses transporting goods and people.
The charcoal market appears to be the busiest. Unlike the yam and fish markets, it looks like all girls and women affair here. Some girls are seen offloading sacks of charcoal, others repackaging and sewing the sacks, with eyes on potential clients passing through.
A few middle-aged women, who looked older than their ages, sat at a distance looking on as the girls got busier.
Babies, not weaned from the breast, were also spotted crawling and drifting in the charcoal dust, some, half naked.
Experts say children who inhale charcoal dust could develop hole in heart conditions. Pregnant women who also inhale the dust could give birth to children with the conditions.
Obiampe, 15, is busy arranging her sacks of charcoal with her child firmly strapped at her back. Her shouts of “bra bra bra” caught my attention. She mistook me for a customer, which gave me the chance to engage her in conversation.
Obiampe looks frail, but very forceful. She told the GNA she and her friends are involved in the energy-sapping activity of felling of trees, cutting them into sizes, and covering them with soil before they are fired into charcoal.
She said the charcoals are sold between GHC15.00 and GHC25.00 per sack, depending on the size and quality, complaining of low profit and high risks involved in the business.
“It is difficult. We have cold and cough always. School is good but this business helps to take care of my family,” she lamented, dropping her head.
A study on respiratory health effects of occupational exposure to charcoal dust in Namibia reveals that charcoal production may result in an increased risk of cough, chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma.
Obiampe said on non-market days, they wake up around 0300 hours and roam communities with charcoal until they are sold, sometimes, very late in the evening.
The GNA gathered that most of the girls in the charcoal business also have groundnut, beans and vegetable farms, therefore do not have time for school, meanwhile, the World Bank says girls’ education is a strategic development priority and that better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in labour market, have fewer children and marry at later age- helping lift households, communities and nations out of poverty.
Some vulnerable boys who help farmers on the farm are said to also roamed communities selling yams in pan before going to school.
Kete Krachi Market attracts other child workers. Samuel, 12, whose biological parents are at Kasseh (Ada Junction), is a regular visitor to the market.
He sells electrical appliances in a tray, combing the whole market and does not go to school.
Samuel’s business mentor, sells the same products in a stationary vehicle with a loud speaker, whilst the mentee, Samuel, moves round the market along the river bank.
He was coached to say he attends school, but with a little probe, he confessed he never stepped foot in a classroom and that he moves with his “master” to sell in market centres.
Samuel who looks malnourished and very unkempt says they sell at night too and sleep in the open after 12 midnight on the eve of the market day at Kete-Krachi.
Some boys below age 10 are also spotted mending nets and involved in other fishing activities during school hours.
Mr Abraham Anami, Assistant Headmaster, Roman Catholic Primary A., Kete Krachi, said though the school enrolled 320 pupils, only 157 reported on the third day after school re-opened and lamented that on market days, school attendance is poor.
Child Trends Data Bank (2015) says attendance is an important factor in school success among children and youth. It says better attendance is related to higher academic achievement for students of all backgrounds, but particularly for children with lower socio-economic status.
Nana Nteh Kwabena I, Public Relations Officer, Ghana Education Service, Krachi West, at the inauguration of child protection committees by World Vision International, Ghana, said many children in the area were trafficked and that all they do was to sell for their “slave masters”.
He said children of native farmers also abandon school to sell, especially on market days, with a few from island communities starting school after 10 years.
Nana Kwabena said the GES was embarking on sensitisation activities and considering going into a memorandum of understanding with school heads to ensure that pupils remained in schools.
The situation appears a bit moderate in Krachi East, where a former District Chief Executive, Peter Awuranyi reportedly used to go round with the cane to drive children out of the market.
But issues of child marriage are still relatively high in the Municipal area, with four cases having been recorded in the past four months at Kwame Akura, Kpachire and Teflekodzi.
This informed World Vision International, Ghana, to launch the, “End child marriage now; It takes us all,” at Kwame Akura to drive the campaign against child marriage home.
The child-focused, Christian and humanitarian Organisation is championing the setting up of child protection committees to sustain the campaign against all forms of child abuses and promote the welfare of children.
It is also supporting child-centred community development projects including; water and toilet facilities, building of classroom blocks and child sponsorships.
Fortunately, the local Assemblies are showing interest in the campaign, having been enjoined by the Children’s Act to protect the welfare and promote the right of children in their jurisdictions.
It is expected that traditional authorities and leaders of faith-based organisations will play active roles in the campaign to stop the rise of second generation street children, with girls, especially in the Krachi Districts becoming perpetual objects of exploitation.
A GNA Feature by A.B. Kafui Kanyi