New drive to protect children in Ghana | Africa | DW | 31.05.2016
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New drive to protect children in Ghana

At least seven African countries are among those around the world which annually mark the International Day for Protection of Children on June 1. One of them is Ghana which is trying to end exploitation of the young.

The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland, proclaimed June 1 to be International Children's Day in 1925 to draw attention to children’s issues.

In Ghana, child labor and trafficking, forced marriage and homelessness are some of the key challenges affecting children. In recent years, little was done to address the plight of Ghanaian children but now the Department of Social Welfare has come up with a new policy that seeks to safeguard children's rights.

In Tamale, the capital of northern Ghana, children as young as ten can be seen scavenging through garbage pits in search of scrap metal for sale. This affects their normal development as they cannot attend school regularly.

"I go round picking metals to sell. My parents don't give me money and it is not my will to do this. If I had care from my parents I wouldn't do this," said 11-year-old Yakubu Ahmed.

Elsewhere on the outskirts of Tamale, another group of children break stones for sale. Jamimu is one of them and his story is no different from Ahmed's.

"It is because of money that we do this. If we don't break the stones, we can't buy food, clothes and our school needs," he told DW.

A young boy sifts through a garbage dumping site

Children in northern Ghana often compete with animals to scavenge garbage dumping sites

It is not only in northern Ghana that children find themselves in such a situation. Helena Obeng Asamoah, acting head of Ghana'sa Department of Social Welfare, puts the blame on parents for not doing enough to take care of their children.

"Some parents neglect their children while for some it is out of ignorance that they don't take good care of their children," Asamoah said.

Earlier this year, police rescued over sixty children who were being trafficked to neighboring Nigeria.

Traditional beliefs versus child rights

In Ghana, just like in other parts of the African continent, it is a common belief that for children to understand the importance of work they have to engage in manual labor which exacerbates the exploitation of children.

A young boy breaks stones

Jamimu has to break stones to get money for food

Mahammud, a parent in Tamale, told DW, "If you don't allow the child to go through such experience, when it grows it will lack common sense."

For Christopher Lartey, an official from the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, there is a need to engage community leaders at all levels in order to safeguard children's rights and put an end to such stereotyped thinking.

"Now the emphasis is on the chiefs, teachers and local assembly members because they know almost every child. If you build their capacities, they will be able to alert the authorities about child abuse," Lartey said.

Several policies and laws were introduced in the past but pretty much existed only on paper. But officials are optimistic that the new policy, with its emphasis on involving local leaders, will be more successful.

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