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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Letting children be children

When I think about the life of the average child in the Western world, all I hear is the voice my grandma saying
"these days kids just grow up far too quickly; when I was that age I was out in the garden…"
But, I would like to challenge this viewpoint.

Children may now appear to be exposed to more ‘adult’ content from the TV, and violence from video games. In fact, I have learnt that this trend is reflected worldwide with advancements in modern technology. One result we received from our teachers’ survey in West Mamprusi which took us by surprise, for example, was a complaint from one teacher that
students "should stop watching blue films"
However, despite these complaints, I am going to argue that childhood and innocence are actually being extended as our lands develop.

The two things which to me symbolise adulthood are becoming a parent, and having a full time job. In Britain, these are getting less and less common with very young people, as child labour has, over time, been to a large extent stomped out. Not only are we now a long way from the Dickensian work house; but even over the last 40 years the average (mean) age of mothers having their first child has risen significantly – from 23.9 in England and Wales in 1973 to 27.9 in 2011. For me this tells us that children are being children longer.

Following this trend here in Ghana is something both us, and RAINS as a whole are focusing on here. One of the main areas of focus for RAINS is ‘reducing child exploitation’, and although of course this is a task that needs to be addressed worldwide, I have found it really interesting to learn about the specific problems facing Ghanaian children from here in the Northern Region everyday.

From what I’ve learnt so far about problems in these areas, one of the scariest aspects of child labour and early motherhood are the issues of child trafficking. Children are often trafficked from the poorer North to the richer South to bring money to the family. Common areas of work here are fishing, domestic service, artisanal gold mining, kayaye (head portering - see picture) and sex trafficking. There are agents available for all of these who parents can get in touch with, and for a commission then they will organise the selling of these children’s labour or bodies.

Kayaye at a road toll
For example, children are trafficked from thier home villages to work in the fishing industry, which means long hours and meagre living conditions along the banks of Lake Volta. They are used because they are cheap, and their little hands can release fish from smaller nets than adults could use. A UNODC ambassador, Julia Ormand, reports seeing one of these children’s faces giving
"A little smile [to her], but it was so diffident, so broken."
Also, the US human trafficking report also notes that ‘child prostitution, and possible child sex tourism, are prevelant in the Volta Region and are growing in the oil in the oil producing Western regions’. These children already appear to have left ‘childhood’ behind.

These kinds of problems do not only exist for children away from home, however. Sadly, deep set cultural attitudes lead to many children being pushed into living like a grown up within their own communities by their parents too. With our own IS team’s research we see how traditional farming villages will often see young boys taken out of school to work on the farm, because staying in school and acting like a child is just not an option given their livelihood situations. Further, many girls are being married off under the legal age of 18, because parents are predominantly pleased to hear the prospect of a potential husband for them, when men go to the guardians to propose these marriages. Actually, another main finding from the IS team at RAINS before us was that in West Mamprusi and Savelugu-Nanton 20% of girls who dropped out of school did so due to early marriage or pregnancy, and that is why we are focusing our project in this area.

It would be naïve to think that the actions of one NGO however could change these deeply bedded issues, of course, but RAINS is far from alone in trying to face up to them. Passion for the rights of children is getting louder everyday.

This is happening on many scales, for example an INTERPOL-led operation combining the efforts of the Ghanaian government and that of Burkina Faso, which resulted in 387 rescues of West African children being forced into labour in gold mines and cotton fields in Burkina Faso. The Ghanaian police’s 16 police representatives here alone led to 30 arrests. Also, on a more local level, assisted by NGOs and international organisations the government has been conducting anti-trafficking information and education campaigns throughout the country. This includes sensitisation programmes in the Volta Region and cocoa-producing communities, and state owned radio and television channels also aired anti-trafficking programming.

There is still a long way to go here to protect children and their innocence, and it is going to take a lot more work to get there. But, just as the UK progresses towards eliminating child exploitation, and continues to stand against it, Ghana seems on precisely the same track. For example, the Ghanaian government is devoting itself to trying to meet the 2005 Human Trafficking act. Alongside tireless work on the ground by various NGOs, and sensitisation work within communities, Ghana is pushing away from these problems. For me this is a very important part of the development of countries, and it is a difficult fight, but it is one which is being fought, internationally, to let our brothers and sisters around the world; the globe’s children, be children.
 
By Beccy