Human Rights

Child labour laws in Ghana: What’s next?

Child labour situation in Ghana

The ILO’s 2020 report on child labour indicates that the sub-Saharan region now has more children in child labour than the rest of the world combined, and the numbers will be high due to the rising poverty levels driven by COVID-19.[1]  As the number of children in child labour is increasing globally, the same trend is reflected in Ghana, where an estimated 30 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 were engaged in child labour in 2018, a majority of whom are in the agriculture sector.[2]

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has validated and reported the existence of child labour in Ghana by unveiling that thousands of boys are forced to work on the Volta Lake in harsh conditions for fishermen. The Commission further reports that many children are given to the fishermen to be involved in work by their parents for as little as two hundred fifty dollars ($250).[3]  Related, similar recent findings have been reported by Becker, who asserts that child labour in Ghana has been a problem that has just escalated in the context of other existing causes, including COVID-19.[4] However, the escalation of child labour cases in Africa has, in most parts, always been a problem on the continent, even before COVID-19 and is normalised in some areas.  These circumstances are within a rich legal framework where children in Ghana are promised protection from all forms of abuse, including child labour.

Normative frameworks addressing child labour

Ghana became the first country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, setting off a bandwagon effect of other African countries that followed suit and quickly ratified the Convention.[5] The aspirations set in the Convention are also reflected in the domestic legislation.

First of all, the Ghanaian Constitution recognises a child as any person under the age of 18.[6] The Constitution also guarantees children’s right to education and health care and seeks to safeguard their dignity through Article 28. Additionally, it protects children from engaging in any work that threatens their health, education, and development.[7] As a supreme law of the land, Taylor opines that the fundamental human rights and freedoms are provided for in crafting Article 33 (5), which declares that the rights and liberties expressed in the Constitution are not exclusive and explicit and should be read expansively to secure the freedom and dignity of man.[8]

Secondly, the Children’s Act of 1998 (amended in 2016) seeks to protect children’s rights, including education, health and shelter.[9] Recognising that not all work performed by children is detrimental and cannot be categorised as child labour, the Act provides for age categories where children can be involved in light work and regular work. The Act further prohibits the engagement of children in exploitative labour.[10] However, it provides that children under 13 years and below 15 can be engaged in light and regular work. In the sense of the Act, light work constitutes work that is not likely to harm the child’s health or development and does not affect the child’s attendance and capacity at school.[11]

Thirdly, Ghana’s Education Act of 2008, in itsArticle 2(2) provides for a free and compulsory basic level of education for children who have reached school-going age. This is probably because keeping children in school not only contributes to breaking the poverty circle that keeps children in child labour practices but also provides them with an opportunity to avoid engaging in child labour practices.[12] This resonates with Ayifah’s finding, whose study unveils that increased time spent in child labour practices is associated with poor school attendance and performance.[13] It is, therefore, imperative that this Act makes education free and compulsory so that children are kept away from environments that might push them into child labour practices.

Furthermore, the Labour Act of 2003 recognises that, given Ghana’s economic and social context, young people might be employed. Nonetheless, it protects young people from hazardous working environments that are detrimental to their health and morality.[14] The Act established the National Labour Commission (NLC), whose primary function is facilitating and settling industrial disputes and promoting practical labour cooperation between labour and management.[15]

Institutions addressing child labour

Ghana’s legal framework provides for institutions that protect and promote children’s rights. These include the police service, courts, the Commission on Human Rights and Administration, the Ministry of Justice and Office of the Attorney General, and the Department of Social Welfare, which enforce and protect human rights, including freedom from child labour.[16]

For instance, the Children’s Act of 1998 mandates the District Assembly to protect children’s rights and ensure coordination of government agencies in all matters concerning children.[17] Furthermore, Article 16 (2) of the Children’s Act allows the Social Welfare and Community Development Department to investigate cases that contravene children’s rights. Besides, the Act accords the District Assembly the power to establish Child Panels and Social Services Sub-Committees at the district level to promote the well-being of children, prevent abuse, and protect children from harm.[18]

Participatory approaches complementing the law

The discussion above demonstrates that there is probably enough promise and assurance, at least from the legal frameworks, to address the problem of child labour in Ghana. However, some key things might need to be done to address the problems and accord children a better life free from child labour practices, which might possibly be outside the legal framework. Other than looking at the flaws in the current legal frameworks, some effort might still be needed to look outside the laws to find out how other non-traditional approaches can be used to address the problem. Of course, this is against the backdrop that poverty, lack of basic and quality education and limited enforcement of laws and implementation of policies are some of the critical factors influencing child labour.[19] In light of this, the next piece discusses how participatory approaches can complement the legal framework in addressing child labour by looking at the role of community-based child labour monitoring committees.*

* Editor’s note: In his next contribution that will be linked here, the author Gift Mauluka will continue to delve into these participatory approaches.

[1] ILO and UNICEF, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, Trends and the Road Forward, ILO and UNICEF, New York, 2021. License: CC BY 4.0 <–en/index.htm> accessed 15 March 2024.

[2] ILO Global Estimates (2020) 9.

[3] African Union, 50th and 51st Combined Activity Reports African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,2021 <> accessed 27 April 2024.

[4] Becker J, ‘“I Must Work to Eat” Covid-19, Poverty, and Child Labor in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda’ (Human Rights Watch, 2021) <> accessed 03 May 2024.

[5] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ghana:2nd Periodic report, 1993-2000 <> accessed 27 April 2023.

[6] Ghana Constitution, 1992, S 28 (5).

[7] Ghana Constitution, 1992, S 28 (2).

[8] Taylor Crabbe, Forest Trends, and Fern, Child Labor Laws, 2020,12.

[9] Dowuona-Hammond, C., Atuguba, R. A., & Tuokuu, F. X. D, ‘The Child Labour Quagmire in Ghana: Root Causes and Ephemeral Solutions’ (2021) 6 (1)  Business and Human Rights Journal 163,165.

[10] Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560), S 87.

[11] Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560), S 90 (2).

[12] Basu, K., & Tzannatos, Z. (2003). The global child labor problem: what do we know and what can we do? The world bank economic review17(2), 147-173 < > accessed 23 April 2022.

[13] Ayifah, Rebecca Nana Yaa, ‘Essays on child labour and schooling in Ghana’ ( DPhil thesis, University of Cape Town 2018).

[14] Ghana Labour Act, 2003, S 58.

[15] Ghana Labour Act, 2003, S 135.

[16] Taylor Crabbe, Forest Trends, and Fern, Child Labor Laws, 2020, 34.

[17] Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560), S 16 (1).

[18] Taylor Crabbe, Forest Trends, and Fern, Child Labor Laws, 2020), 33.

[19] ILO Global Estimates p. 9; see also Lubaale, Emma Charlene, ‘The recognition of the right of children to freedom from child labour in Africa: is it enough?’ (2015) 28 (1) Afrika Focus 23-43.


By Gift Gawanani Mauluka

Gift Gawanani Mauluka is a PhD candidate at the Chair for African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth.

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