Children in Ghana – What You Need to Know
By Rebecca Lawes
Facts in brief
Population – around 20 million, 20% live in Accra the capital
Capital – Accra
Official language – English but other dialects are widely spoken too
Religion – 75% Christian, 15% Muslim and the rest hold other traditional beliefs.
History – Formerly known as the Gold Coast but renamed Ghana after its independence from British colonial rule in 1957. Ghana means ‘warrior king’. In 1991 multiparty democracy was introduced and Jerry Rawlings won the first ever democratic elections.
Oil was discovered off the coast of Ghana in 2007.
Literacy rate: Adult [15+] 67%, Youth [15-24] 81% (UNESCO, 2010)
Child mortality: 78 children in every 1,000 likely to die before 5 years (WHO, 2011)
Child nutrition: 14.3% of children below 5 years underweight (WHO, 2012)
Number of children (0-17) who have lost one/both parents: 970.000 (UNICEF, 2011)
Over the past 20 years poverty in Ghana has decreased but there is still a lot of work to be done. Generally speaking the political situation and the economy are good. However, partly due to the recent influx of the oil industry and some instability with the economy in Ghana, some issues have arisen.
Prostitution generally is prevalent and is growing in the eastern oil regions. The US Department of State 2015 Human Trafficking Report described Ghana as a “source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” The report also documented rising levels of child prostitution in the oil producing western areas. The Ghanian government are believed to have human trafficking measures in place and a budget for this but there are growing concerns for the welfare of sex workers, especially those under age.
It is believed that over 20 percent of children aged 5-17 years engage in child labour in Ghana. In 2015 the government launched influential initiatives in order to minimise child trafficking and reduce child labour. Their plans included establishing care centres and social help for any child who was a victim of trafficking however it is not believed that they are doing enough or putting enough money into reducing trafficking, labour and prostitution of children. Fishing, harvesting and cocoa industries are the most prevalent in terms of child labour. Work can be arduous and dangerous and include heavy lifting, mining and exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals. There is also evidence, in Accra specifically, of acts of servitude where a family gives a young girl in the family to officials of a local shrine in order to pay for a member of the family’s sins. These girls are known as Trokosi and are required to work on the priest’s land and perform household tasks. Usually they are unpaid and uncared for and sexual assaults on these girls are common.
Education is free in Ghana and compulsory; most children usually finish their education at junior high school aged 15. The government have been vocal on their measures on providing free uniforms and meals to some children although there’s speculation about how widespread this is in practice. For many families the cost of uniform, meals and materials is prohibitive hence the levels of child labour. There have been a small number of reports of girls being sexually assaulted and harassed by teachers and classmates, and there is a worry that this is more widespread than statistics show. Too many children crammed into small classrooms is a problem and the number of children attending school, especially in rural areas, is not as high as it should be.
There are several government laws and legislations in place aimed at protecting children from abandonment in Ghana and In the last few years several thousand reports have been filed in relation to neglect and abandonment with hundreds of prosecutions made. The government want to make it clear to parents what their duties as parents are and the repercussions in the judicial systems if they fail. Despite these measures, levels of abandoned children or those rescued from being trafficked are high and many live in children’s homes across the country.
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Rebecca Lawes is a freelance writer. See more of her wonderful work here.