The following article was published by PEARL World Youth News, an initiative of iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) and the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Matthew Ewusi Nyarkoh filed this story from Ghana. You can see the original post and more about the project here.
Several thousand children live and work on the streets here, and their numbers are growing. Increasing urbanization in the capital city and increasing poverty in the surrounding countryside are making more children vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, including a higher risk of exposure to HIV.
Amina is 11, an orphan who works as a porter in the suburb of Nima. Porters like Amina, known in Accra as kayayei, carry heavy loads in a basin balanced on their heads. She said in an interview that she came to Accra two years ago, when she was 9, after her parents were killed. They were returning home from their farm field on a bicycle when they were hit by a car and killed, she said.
Although she has aunts and uncles, they not only declined to take in the orphan but also accused her of causing her parents’ deaths, she claimed. Since she had no other family to run to, her only option was to head to Accra to find work and take care of herself. So now she carries loads for shoppers in the Nima market.
She charges 70 pesewes ($ .50 U.S.) for a small load and 1 cedi ($ .68 U.S.) for a bigger load. After the day’s work, she waits for a shop to close so she can sleep in front of that shop, she said, adding that she has been robbed a few times of the money she made that day. She asked that her full name not be published because she feared for her safety if her relatives should learn of her whereabouts.
The minimum age when children can work legally in Ghana is 16. However, more than 26 percent of children between 5 and 14 work illegally, according to the Ghana Statistical Service. The service’s report indicates that children in rural areas work in fishing, herding and farming, and as domestic servants, porters, hawkers, mine and quarry laborers, and bus conductors. In urban centers like Accra, street children work mainly as truck pushers, head porters, and sales workers.
Jalal Mohammed, a program officer at Moslem Family Counseling Services in Accra, said in an interview that child laborers are not only denied access to education but also some are held in indentured servitude, forced to work off their families’ debts. According to his agency, more than 1 million underage children work in Ghana. Of those, more than 242,000 are engaged in the most dangerous and exploitive work and over 800,000 are not in school.
Mohammed said many child traffickers in Ghana have been publicly exposed but authorities have failed to prosecute them. He added that the government would not act and traffickers would not be deterred unless aid workers, human rights activists, and journalists continued to apply pressure.