oye lithur

FOURTEEN-YEAR-old primary five pupil of Maame Dede Community School, Samuel Kweku Suka, walks through the farm as he applies manure to the young pawpaw trees with his friends, in exchange for money.

Looking exhausted, he tries to finish the work for the day as he slowly bends, with his bare hands and no protective shoes, to mix the soil with the manure.

?Today we are removing the manure from the poultry farm and putting them under the pawpaw trees for GH?30,? he says.

?But I do a lot of other jobs; I carry oranges from the farms, plant cassava, plantain, and weed. I even fetch water from the borehole for people, for money.?

Kweku, an orphan, lives with his younger brother, Richard Suka and their grandmother at Maame Dede, a farming community located at the Upper West Akyem District of the Eastern Region.

He, however, has no support from his old grandmother, and is therefore left on his own to care for and educate himself without any supervision.

?I have a grandmother but I have no one to take care of me,? he says.

Kweku says the money he is able to make from menial works is what he uses to take care of himself and put himself through school.

?Since class two I have been buying my own books and paying my printing fee at school through the work I do,?? he adds.

?But it bothers me that I have to work and go to school at the same time.?

Like many other children living in Maame Dede and other communities across the country, Kweku has fallen out of the social safety net and is left on his own to survive, despite progressive legal documents to protect such children from activities that have the potential to harm them physically or mentally.

This situation makes children and teenagers like Kweku vulnerable to abuse and assault in the hands of people they find solace.

The Laws

The country has a fairly young population, according to the 2010 National Population and Housing Census Analytical Report.

The proportion of the population aged less than 15 years stands at 38.3 per cent while the older adolescent and young adults stand at 20 per cent. This culminates that more than 50 per cent of the national population are children and young people.

In recognition of this great potential for socio-economic development that the country has in terms of its youth, laws have been promulgated to ensure the proper development and protection of children and the youth in the country.

The 1992 Constitution recognizes the rights of the child in Article 28 and the rights of mothers as primary care givers in Article 27.

The country has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and the African Chatter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) in 2005.

In line with its constitutional and international treaty obligations, Ghana passed the Children?s Act, 1998 (Act 560), the Juvenile Justice Act, 2003 (Act 653) the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732).

The Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694) and the Criminal Code, 1960, (Act 29) have all been passed to provide a strong legal policy framework for the protection of children in Ghana.

However, despite the promulgation of these laws to safeguard and protect the rights of children and help them to develop, some children still fall out of the safety net that these laws provide.

Challenges

The Ghana Child Labour Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service in 2003 showed that of an estimated 6.36 million

children aged between 15 and 17 years; 2.47 million (representing half of rural children and one-fifth of urban children) are involved in paid economic activity with 1.59 million combining school and work.

Thus nearly one in every five children in the country is engaged in an activity that could be classified as child labour.

Issues of forced marriages and physical abuses are also still high in the country as a result of poverty, refusal of parents to support children in school, abusive socio-cultural practices and being orphaned.

Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, has said the bane of the country in protecting its children and creating an enabling environment for them to develop has been the lack of synergy and coordination between the frameworks and the programmes rolled out to help children.

She said issues like laws failing to take local context into account, multiple national action plans on child protection, the lack of a comprehensive national policy framework for child protection and no linkage between the formal and informal service provision have been discovered to be contributing factors in the poor implementation of child protection laws.

William Adu Botchuay, the vice chairman of the Maame Dede Local Planning Committee on sensitization for community members, looked at the issue from the grassroots.

He said for a farming community like Maame Dede that rely on predominantly small-scale farming methods to cultivate the land, people hardly get enough in yields to support themselves and their family.

Mr Botchuay explained that farm yields are always halved because of climate change and poor market in the area.

He said parents therefore do not save enough to further the education of their children after junior high school education ?Once you finish junior high school education you learn a trade, the girls, hair dressing and dressmaking and the boys fitting and driving. Only few children continue to the senior high school,? he said.

He nonetheless acknowledged the important role the family and community play in the upbringing of the child but added that, ?we have the desire to help others but looking at the work we do, what we get can barely take care of our families.?

He explained that the extended family system which provided that safety net in which children stayed with relatives who saw to their care and education no longer exists.

?My income is low; another person?s income is also low, so the little I get, I use to care for my wife and children. It doesn?t extend outside,? Mr. Botchuay noted with a sad expression.

He said the community has no social intervention programmes specifically targeted at helping children like Kweku: ?What the elders get is what the children get. For example, electricity that helps the children to learn.?

He said the situation was disturbing and called for external support for the farming community that already lacks a health facility, good sanitation and a market place.

?If we get help from another place to help people we will be very happy because where we have reached now is disturbing,? he noted.

Interventions

Government has rolled out social intervention programmes to help children and indigenes like Kweku in the country.

Free Compulsory Basic Education, National Health Insurance Scheme, Free School Feeding Programme and the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty

(LEAP) are some of the social intervention programmes aimed at supporting the less privileged in society.

The rollout of these programmes has yielded impressive results with schools, for instance, recording increment in enrolment.

The country has also begun the drafting of another document to help protect the rights of the child which the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection said would augment the already existing programmes and frameworks to help the Ghanaian child.

The National Child and Family Welfare Policy expected to be finalized this year has the overarching goal of ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of children and their families.

This, Mrs. Lithur said, would be implemented by supporting and promoting family and community strategies and processes and ensuring that services are available for children and their families when facing difficulties.

She added that the new policy is focused on prevention as opposed to the ?response oriented?

approach to the current child protection system in the country.

?Presently the system only kicks in when a violation has occurred. Under the new policy, the aim is to improve prevention through continuous engagement with families and communities on issues of child welfare,? she explained.

She said family and community leaders needed to support the implementation, as the success of the implementation rests with them as much as with government.

?Civil society organizations, families and communities also have key roles to play under the policy in the area of providing the basic needs of children, mobilizing resources for child wellbeing and advocacy to end activities and practices negatively impacting on children,? Mrs. Lithur emphasized.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

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