ACCRA, Ghana (GPI)-- Isaac Asemaku, 17, is a third-grade student at Dago District Assembly Primary School in Ghana’s Central region.
By the age of 9, he was engaged in child labor for his father, who was a farmer. Instead of attending school, he helped his father on the farm by weeding, planting crops and sometimes fetching firewood. But after some time, he began to have back and neck pains from the heavy labor.
“I then complained to my father that I will rather go to school than help him in the farm, of which he agreed,” Asemaku says.
But before he could enroll in school, his father died after a short illness. His mother remarried, and his stepfather, a fisherman, made Asemaku spend long hours at sea with him on fishing trips.
“Sometimes we [got] a lot of catch, and other times we [didn’t],” he says. “We [went] fishing in the sea all the time, except on Tuesdays, when we [rested].”
He says he did not want to do this labor because, like farming, it also gave him back pains. He sent the money he earned to his mother, a petty trader, to help her to take care of his younger siblings. But all he wanted was to be in school.
Today, he has received his wish.
International Needs Ghana, a nongovernmental organization that works to rescue children from trafficking and to reintegrate them into society, rescued him, persuaded his mother and stepfather to enroll him in school and paid for his uniform.
Asemaku says that some of his third-grade classmates tease him because of his age. But it does not deter him from his goal of gaining an education and becoming an architect.
In order for students like Asemaku to stay in school, he asks the government to provide children with school uniforms, textbooks and school shoes because their parents sometimes can’t afford it.
As child labor increases throughout Africa, the majority of child laborers in Ghana work in agriculture, namely the cocoa industry. The government, international organizations and local associations used World Day Against Child Labor last month to pledge their commitment to eradicating child labor and enrolling children in school. Although international conventions and national plans are in place, they agree that reaching these goals requires community-wide mobilization, including active participation from parents and children themselves.
In Ghana, 34 percent of children ages 5 to 14 are engaged in child labor, according to The State of the World’s Children 2012, a report by UNICEF. The net attendance ratio for children in primary school is about 75 percent in Ghana.
Francis Eshun, a former child worker, spoke at the World Day Against Child Labor event last month in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Francis used to help his father in fishing. Aside from fishing, his role was to bail water out of the boat when there were any leaks and to dive into the water to disentangle nets when they got caught on tree stumps.
One day, the boat capsized. Francis’ leg got entangled in the fishing net, and he was badly injured. The doctors had no option but to amputate his leg. Like Asemaku, Francis was also rescued and enrolled in school through the help of International Needs Ghana.
Steven McClelland, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization, says that child labor is a problem worldwide.
“There are over 200 million children worldwide who are working as child laborers, and many of them are doing so on a full-time basis and are not in school,” he says. “They also have little or no time to play. More than half of these children are exposed to the worst forms of child labor, and this includes hazardous work, slavery, child prostitution and the likes.”