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Tracking the girls: How the closure of schools brought an abrupt end to the education of some girls in rural Ghana

COVID- 19 has undoubtedly altered lives and human activities since its outbreak in November 2019. While it has brought global economies to their knees; it is also threatening the human resource base of countries including Ghana.

Governments’ partial lock down and closure of schools to contain and protect citizens increased existing inequalities in education, poverty, food insecurity among others. But for the long break in academic work, Adiza Moro-not her real name-desired to serve humanity through health care delivery but at age seventeen, she is a junior high school dropout.

“I wanted to become a nurse”, the native of the Upper West region who migrated to the Greater Accra region had to make a critical decision: “saving from my daily earnings”, from carrying groceries and other heavy loads for random clients to pay for the fee for the apprenticeship (dressmaking).

Schools in Ghana were closed from sixteenth March to June, 2020, following the hike in COVID-19 cases at the time, affecting some 9.2 million basic school students (kindergarten, primary and junior high schools) and 0.5 million tertiary education students according to the United Nations. For many students like Adiza, the closure brought a premature end to their education.

Urban-rural disparities are significant, with children faring far worse in rural areas, especially in the northern and upper regions of Ghana. Though the primary effects of the pandemic on children appear to be limited, children below the monetary poverty line are highly susceptible to the indirect effects of the pandemic.

Before COVID-19, one- in- three children in Ghana reportedly lived below the monetary poverty line, and two in three children were multi-dimensionally poor in Ghana. Several others like Hamida resorted to engaging in alternative livelihood activities like head-porting, also known as kayaye in the local parlance.

The life of a head porter.

Mostly identified by a large tray or metallic pan, hurriedly meandering their way out in human and vehicular traffic with heaps of goods in major markets of southern Ghana, “kayayei” are female head porters who engage in the manual labour of carrying goods and luggage for survival. They make their way up and down the maze of alleys that constitute the market areas, carting whatever their client possess, from household wares to groceries. They sometimes supply other ancillary services like loading and unloading trucks and running errands.

These head porters are female migrants, often minors from the northern part of the country who migrate to the southern part either in search of greener pastures or fleeing ethnic conflicts, early and forced marriages. They  often end up living in slums or on the streets of major cities.

From dawn to dusk and in the sweltering afternoon heat, they move goods to and fro for individuals in exchange for a few Ghanaian cedis as deemed sufficient by the client.They are pushed by poverty and pulled by the hope of lucrative work, thus, will endure the adversities to survive. The adolescent are mostly the bread winners of their families back home.

Their age range, nature of work, and education raise concerns about national policies aimed at providing equitable and accessible education – in Ghana’s Inclusive Education policy, the 1992 Constitution of the Republic, and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 8 which ensures decent work and economic growth.

Strapped at the back of nineteen years Hamida-not her real name is a seven months baby she bore in Accra. At age sixteen, the native of Sowla in the Wa East district left her home during the break in academic work hoping to explore opportunities in carting of goods and save enough money to pay for her tailoring apprenticeship but got pregnant sleeping on the street.

“My parents have nothing in the house to take care of my tailoring.”

She argues Zuweira Sadick migrating to the national capital to undertake the same task for survival is evidence of her claims of poverty in their region- the north.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates, “Where a child has both parents, both of them should be responsible for bringing up the child. She, however, tells ZAMIREPORT’s Eredon Gien Joseph that, the father of her baby “abandoned his responsibilities since I was pregnant.”

Her daily sales can allow for a maximum of Ghc3.00 expenditure. “Every morning I buy ‘Hausa Koko’ (porridge) Ghc1.00 for me and the child, I buy tz Ghc1.00 in the afternoon and most times I buy rice Ghc1.00 in the evenings. They even sell mackroni Ghc0.50 at our place so I can buy to mix it with rice so that they will be enough”, she chuckled after narrating.

These two adolescents are bound by one big dream: to live a better life in the cities but the opposite is the reality.

Ghana has over the years implemented its national educational policy of “Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE)” along the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4–”ensuring inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning and goal (5) which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Successive Governments have pursued with varying degrees of success, several policies and programmes such as the National action plan for the elimination of the worse forms of child labour and Free Senior High school among others to  accelerate social development. The phenomenon of child labour and disparities of the effects on female adolescents is however overarching in major cities in Ghana.

Globally, over one hundred and sixty-eight million children are beguiled in the menace of child labour, with Sub-Saharan African having the highest prevalence rate of more than one in every five children engaging in it.

The carriage and manual handling of heavy loads is one-of-nine Worst Forms of Child labour (WFCL) as defined in a collaborative policy document between the Government of Ghana, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) among others.

According to the Child Labour Report of the Ghana Living Standards Survey Round 6 (CLR-GLSS-6) in 2014, 21.8% (1,892,553) of  8,697,602 population 5-17 years children were estimated to be child labourers, and more than six in ten of them; 14.2%  were engaged in hazardous work.

Ghana is the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1990 which enjoins countries to ensure every child is “protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

Ghana’s 1992 Constitution in Article 28 (2) adds, “Every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education or development” defining a child (5) as “any person below the age of 18.”

While article 16 (2) of the Constitution outline “no person shall be required to perform forced labour”, persons within the child age range as defined by the constitution are engaged in head porting. More needs to be done in terms of resources and empowerment to prevent female adolescents from abandoning their education in the name of fighting for survival.

This report is supported by Journalists for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project.

By: Eredon Gien Joseph |www.zamireports.com |Accra.

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