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  • Writer's pictureAlice Harada

A Momentous Step toward Ending Child Labour in Ghana

On 9th March 2020, the new Child Labour Free Zone system (CLFZ-system) came into effect in Ghana. It will be used to monitor, verify and certify that areas have eliminated child labour and have the mechanisms in place to continue to protect children from hazardous work, while also safeguarding other fundamental children’s rights. Eligible areas will be assessed and, if successful, certified as a "Child Labour Free Zone" ; cacao production areas are currently the main targets but the system is set to be expanded nationwide.

Head of the village making a speech

This is the first time a country has, as a nation, established and systematised specific operating rules to eliminate child labour. It is a key moment in the history of the fight to protect children from hazardous forms of work.

The concept of such a system is not particularly revolutionary. However, until now there have never been standardised rules on how to determine an area as "child labour-free", who would have the authority to do so, and how it would be maintained. Ghana has now officially established the CLFZ-system guidelines and protocols, and incorporated them into their National Action Plan (Phase II). This is the first time a country has, as a nation, established and systematised specific operating rules to eliminate child labour. It is a key moment in the history of the fight to protect children from hazardous forms of work.

Of course, the Ghanaian government has not been sitting idle until now. Ghana is an Alliance 8.7 Pathfinder country, and a number of efforts have been made to work toward the achievement of SDG 8.7, in particular to, "end all forms of child labour by 2025”. The government announced their National Action Plan for the achievement of the SDG Target 8.7 back in 2017, and one of its key strategies was to establish and disseminate a national-level system to accelerate progress. ACE began collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Employment Relations (MELR) in 2018, to provide our technical expertise and over 10 years of experience running SMILE Ghana community projects. The field operations of our SMILE Ghana projects formed the basis of the CLFZ-system.

Child labour arises from a combination of local and global socio-economic factors and so resolving it is not a simple matter of, for example, building a school. As such, the guidelines and protocols are complex and detailed. However, ACE Managing Director Tomoko Shiroki underscores the fact that these guidelines are equal to institutionalisation, meaning not only that they provide clear regulations to be followed but further that the various stakeholders involved in child labour, who until now were working separately, will work as one network to expand the number of CLFZ areas throughout Ghana.

Child Labour in Ghana: the Stats

According to the most recent report on the state of child labour in Ghana and the Cote D'Ivoire , there are approximately 770,000 child labourers in Ghana as of 2018/2019 (NORC, University of Chicago 2020). 710,000 of those children are engaged in hazardous work. This is progress compared to the last comprehensive report conducted in 2015, in which there were a reported 920,000 child labourers. Nevertheless, we should be cautious in our interpretation of what these new findings signify, with ample consideration given to the recent backlash of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the on-going growth of the cacao industry.

A Closer Look at the Child Labour Free Zone

The system literally names an area as "child labour-free." Does that really mean that, 1. There are no cases of child labour in the area, and 2. If an area is found to have no cases of child labour at a certain point in time it can be labelled child labour-free?

The simple answer to both questions is no. A certified CLFZ means an area has been verified as having sustainable, comprehensive, and consistent interventions in place to protect children from dangerous work and ensure their rights and welfare. Just because an area does not have any cases of child labour does not make it child labour-free. Similarly, an area with several cases of child labour which has the mechanisms in place to address them should not be discounted. An area that has a well-functioning system to protect children from hazardous work and sustains a safe environment that enables them to live in peace of mind is a child labour free zone.

The CLFZ system includes the operation of:

• A routine child labour monitoring system (at community & district level)

• A system that manages school enrolment and attendance (for compulsory education)

• A system that monitors workplaces and prevents children’s involvement in dangerous work

• A system that cracks down on and tries illegal cases in accordance with the law

• Municipal institutions that provide financial support to vulnerable families and farmers

• Local government-level policies, annual plans/budgets, and ordinances for the elimination of child labour

Only the Ghanaian government has the authority to grant the certification.

What role did ACE play in creating the CLFZ-system?

The Child Labour Free Zone system was adopted following the collaboration of numerous stakeholders and in particular, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), ACE, Deloitte Tohamatsu Consulting Japan, the Ghanaian government, and the Ghanaian Agricultural Workers Union.

Since child labour free zones involve a geographical "zone" or area, it was often difficult for people from various political positions, such as the community, local government, and central government, to work corporate effectively. At the same time, child labour is a problem related to poverty, education, labour, human rights, health, agriculture, and business, further involving more stakeholders. On top of this, numerous NGOs and organisations have been working independently to eliminate child labour until now, and calling an area "child labour-free" could mean many different things.The fact that Ghana has, as a country, overcome these challenges and began to institutionalise an approach to, and procedures for, realising a national Child Labour Free Zone system is an extremely momentous event.

County-level Consultation Meeting July 2019

Between 2018-2020, ACE and Deloitte Japan collaborated with the Ghanaian government, the ILO, the Ghanaian Agricultural Workers Union, and CRADA (our local partner of the Smile Ghana Project), to establish this system. The first National Stakeholder Dialogue (National Stakeholders' Meeting) was the first step in the process and saw the coming together of 80 people from various fields related to the cacao industry and child labour. However, at the event ACE Managing Director Tomoko Shiroki stressed that, "Many people from different sectors have been working towards the elimination of child labour, but efforts have not seen significant results. After all, success cannot be realised without a national budget. A lot of people already know that."

A political will and national budget is crucial but our experience operating the SMILE Ghana project also taught us the importance of community engagement and shared responsibility. With some ingenuity, utilising existing local systems and strengthening corporation between local and district level stakeholders can produce results without a huge budget. Efforts such as reforming schools and PTAs, restoring trust in schools, supporting productivity improvement, supporting poor families, and addressing labour shortages can reap significant results - although they should all come as a set package. Along with, of course, a support system for these communities, schools, and households at the district level to sustain these mechanisms. There are no temporary quick fixes.

Creating the system is not the final goal

Since November 2018, ACE staff visited Ghana five times during the discussion process to establish the new system. During this time, the rules and procedures for realising the Child Labour Free Zone were discussed in detail with the involvement of all key stakeholders, including community leaders and community members themselves. Finally, on March 9th, 2020, the official document, Establishing Child Labour Free Zones in Ghana: Protocols and Guidelines publicly came into effect. All activities to eliminate child labour in Ghana are now required to refer to these guidelines.

The establishment of the guidelines was not our final goal. The next step is to ensure the guidelines are implemented properly; the villages that have graduated from the SMILE Ghana Project are soon set to be assessed and certified as Child Labour Free Zones and will provide the first opportunity to see implementation in action.

Our longer-term goal is that the Child Labour Free Zone-system is functioning effectively nationwide, laying a smoother road for Ghana to become a child labour-free country. The SMILE Ghana Project has been vital to progress toward these long-term goals and we will continue to work at the community level to withdraw and protect children from hazardous labour while a national system starts to take root.

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