Saturday, July 3, 2010

Africa’s World of Forced Labour

Africa’s World of Forced Labour, in a 6-Year-Old’s Eyes


Just before 5 a.m., with the sky still dark over Lake Volta, Mark Kwadwo was rousted from his spot on the damp dirt floor.

It was time for work. Shivering in the predawn chill, he helped paddle a canoe a mile out from shore. For five more hours, as his coworkers yanked up a fishing net, inch by inch, Mark bailed water to keep the canoe from swamping. He last ate the day before. His broken wooden paddle was so heavy he could barely lift it. But he raptly followed each command from Kwadwo Takyi, the powerfully built 31-year-old in the back of the canoe who freely deals out beatings.

“I don’t like it here,” he whispered, out of Mr. Takyi’s earshot.

Mark Kwadwo is 6 years old. About 30 pounds, dressed in a pair of blue and red underpants and a Little Mermaid T-shirt, he looks more like an oversized toddler than a boat hand. He is too little to understand why he has wound up in this fishing village, a two-day trek from his home. But the three older boys who work with him know why.

Like Mark, they are indentured servants, leased by their parents to Mr. Takyi for as little as $20 a year. Until their servitude ends in three or four years, they are as trapped as the fish in their nets, forced to work up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, in a trade that even adult fishermen here call punishing and, at times, dangerous.

Mr. Takyi’s boys conscripts in a miniature labor camp, deprived of schooling, basic necessities and freedom are part of a vast traffic in children that supports West and Central African fisheries, quarries, cocoa and rice plantations and street markets. The girls are domestic servants, bread bakers, prostitutes. The boys are field workers, cart pushers, scavengers in abandoned gem and gold mines.

By no means is the child trafficking trade uniquely African. Children are forced to race camels in the Middle East, weave carpets in India and fill brothels all over the developing world.

The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, estimates that 1.2 million are sold into servitude every year in an illicit trade that generates as much as $10 billion annually. Studies show they are most vulnerable in Asia, Latin America and Africa. ppp Africa’s children, the world’s poorest, account for roughly one-sixth of the trade, according to the labor organization. Data is notoriously scarce, but it suggests victimization of African children on a huge scale.After you read the rest of this story, you wonder what madness we live in--a global system that allows this to happen.

Issues facing children in Ghana (UNICEF)

One third of rural populations lack access to safe drinking water, and only 11 per cent have adequate sanitation. Guinea worm, a parasitic infection largely attributable to drinking unsafe water, continues to plague Ghana which reported more cases of Guinea worm than any other country in 2004.

While the HIV prevalence rate seems to be stabilizing in Ghana, the countries’ comparatively low number of HIV/AIDS cases masks considerable variations by geographic region, gender, age, occupation, and to some degree, urban-rural residence. It has been estimated that only 30 per cent of AIDS cases are reported, in part because of stigma, but also due to factors such as reduced health-seeking behaviour, and inadequate access to health services.

Nationwide, only 469 eligible HIV-positive children (aged 0-14) were receiving crucial Anti-retroviral therapy (ART). Given that more than 6,000 children are eligible for ART, there is still an enormous gap in the area of pediatric ART.

Proper iodization and use of iodized salt remain a challenge in Ghana. Figures show that 51 per cent of households consume iodised salt, but only 32 per cent of households adequately iodized their diet.

Birth and death registration continues to be relatively low in Ghana due to severe capacity constraints and the Birth and Death Registries where registration is still largely done by hand.

Ghana Leads Sub-Saharan Africa

Data suggest that Ghana has already achieved gender parity at the primary and junior secondary levels. In partnership with key government and non-government actors, Ghana has worked successfully toward improving the level of girl’s education in 15 districts where parity levels were low.

Seventy-eight per cent of the population is now using an improved source of drinking water and 60.7 per cent have access to improved sanitation. The sanitation figure presents a significant increase over comparable household surveys completed in 2003.

An integrated maternal and child health campaign included distribution of 1.5 million long-lasting insecticide treated nets to children 0-11 months of age, administration of vitamin A to children under 5 years and to lactating women, de-worming of 2-5 year old children (nationwide) and administration of 3 million supplemental doses of polio vaccine to children under 5 years.


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