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Human Rights

Complementing the child labour legal framework through participatory approaches

In last week’s contribution, it has been established that Ghana’s legal framework accords children enough promise for protection from child labour. However, the fulfilment of this promise is being frustrated mainly by other factors outside the law. Recurrent poverty, lack of primary and quality education, and limited enforcement of laws and implementation of policies are some of the implicated factors.[1] Addressing these factors will most likely provide an immediate solution to the problem of child labour and pave the way for a smoother operationalisation of Ghana’s current legal framework. While such is the case, the use of participatory approaches in engaging communities promises tangible and sustainable results that can accord Ghanaian children total protection from child labour and the fulfilment of their rights. These participatory approaches are characterised by the active participation of the community, where they identify their problem, reflect on why and how the problem affects them, and, with insights gained through this self-evaluation, explore solutions. In light of this claim, I reflect on the potential of these participatory approaches in complementing the legal framework in addressing child labour.

Participatory approaches as an alternative

One would have to be naïve to go into a community assuming that the communities do not know their problems and will solely wait upon external players for solutions. It is unsurprising to note that when communities are asked about their existing problems, they are also quick to provide alternative homegrown solutions. In most communities, the proposed solutions to their problems involve the role of stakeholders and the participation of marginalised community members in sharing their knowledge and understanding of a particular issue, which are essential characteristics of participatory approaches.[2] Some of these approaches include the Community Scorecard (CSC) and Theatre for Development (TfD).

The potential of Community Scorecard in addressing child labour

The Community Scorecard approach brings together rights holders and duty-bearers to assess the satisfaction or frustration of service delivery. It consolidates citizen’s perceptions, views, and opinions on how particular elements of service delivery are being delivered. The approach provides a platform for rights holders and duty bearers to work in partnership to implement and track the effectiveness of solutions in an ongoing process of quality improvement.[3] These characteristics can be used to complement the law in addressing child labour.

For instance, Ghana’s Education Act of 2008, Article 2(2), provides free and compulsory basic education for children who have reached school-going age. This provision obliges the government to ensure that education facilities are available for all children in Ghana. Where this duty seems to be failing or not being fulfilled from the perception of the rights holders, the CSC provides an opportunity for the rights holders to hold the government accountable. It provides a platform where parents, children, and other stakeholders, as rights holders, can demand that the government live up to its promise. This can be done by demanding that the government fulfil obligations set in its policies, strategies and development plans to provide enough teaching and learning material, build enough classrooms, and ensure that education is attractive overall. This will not only contribute to education advancement but will also help in addressing child labour as it is found that when children are in school, the probability of engaging them in child labour is reduced.[4] Furthermore, improving school infrastructure in rural areas significantly improves school attendance. It correspondingly minimises the intensity of work among children,[5] which, if demanded by the rights holders through this approach, will improve children’s rights and address child labour.

Theatre for Development (TfD) complementing the law

The second approach, the TfD, entails using language, tactics, approaches and strategies that do not command any form of literacy from the people involved, just as is the case with other forms of participatory approaches.[6] It is also useful for exploring questions pertaining to lived realities and experiences that might sometimes be contentious.[7] Additionally, the approach is an open-ended process where the provision of definite or absolute responses to an issue is left to the audience. The approach encourages its facilitators to provoke thought in the audience to ignite debate surrounding an issue so that they can find solutions or alternative understandings of a particular issue in a given context.[8]  

In this vein, through the TfD approach, Ghanaian communities can be provoked to assess why children below the minimum age of employment are involved in hazardous work, contrary to the provisions of the law.[9] Additionally, TfD can help uncover why civil society organisations in Ghana opt to use their own child labour monitoring systems rather than align them with the government-established systems provided by the laws.[10]

It is most likely that the communities will say that most families in Ghana are living below the poverty line, and their current income is not enough to provide and meet their daily needs. It is also most probable that interventions meant to address this poverty will be proposed. However, the TfD approach can potentially help dig deeper to understand which poverty alleviation programmes will bring more sustainable results. The approach will also determine how and when these poverty alleviation interventions must be implemented. As the approach accords a community a chance to unveil deep-rooted and unspoken ideas that motivate certain types of behaviour in their community,[11] there is potential in finding the motivation why certain poverty alleviation programmes are not working or why government-established structures are not being engaged by CSOs.

Conclusion

The solid foundation for the protection of children from child labour and providing them protection from all forms of exploitation is found in Ghana’s legal framework. However, the realisation of this is thwarted by the presence of other compelling factors, such as poverty and limited access to quality education, among others. While collaborated efforts in addressing these factors can help in addressing the problem, there is a need to integrate participatory approaches with the existing legal framework for a more significant and sustainable redress of child labour to uphold children’s rights. Unless this is done, the promises made through the legal frameworks will remain empty, and children will probably continue being exploited.


[1] ILO Global Estimates (2021) 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.

[2] Erel, U., Reynolds, T. and Kaptani, E., ‘Participatory theatre for transformative social research’ (2017) 17 (3) Qualitative Research  302, 303.

[3] CARE Malawi. “The Community Score Card (CSC): A generic guide for implementing CARE’s CSC process to improve quality of services.” Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc., 2013.

[4] Heady, C. ‘The effect of child labor on learning achievement’ (2003) 31 (2) World Development, 385, 393.

[5] Ersado, L. ‘Child Labor and Schooling Decisions in Urban and Rural Areas: Comparative Evidence from Nepal, Peru, and Zimbabwe’ (2005) 33 (3) World Development 455, 465.

[6] Erel, U., Reynolds, T. and Kaptani, E., ‘Participatory theatre for transformative social research’ (2017) 17 (3) Qualitative Research 302, 309.

[7] Erel, U., Reynolds, T. and Kaptani, E., ‘Participatory theatre for transformative social research’ (2017) 17 (3) Qualitative Research 302, 309.

[8] Boal, A., The rainbow of desire: The Boal method of theatre and therapy (Routledge, 2013) xxiv.

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

[10] ICI summary of the Ghana Accelerated Action Plan Against Child Labour (National Plan of Action for Elimination of Child Labour) 2023 – 2027 < https://www.cocoainitiative.org/sites/default/files/resources/ICI%20Summary_GHA%20NAP%202023-2027_FINAL.pdf> accessed 10 June 2024.

[11] Kamlongera, C., 2005. Theatre for development in Africa. Media and glocal change: Rethinking Communication for Development 435-452.

Author

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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