UNICEF celebrated its 76th birthday on December 11. And for 40 years, we have been proud to partner with successive governments, civil society and all development actors in Ghana to advance the rights of all children and young people.
Today, 12 million children under 18 represent 42 per cent of the total population in the country. Ensuring child survival, learning and development is vital for the future of the nation. We commend Ghana for the important steps taken towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
As national surveys and studies show, achievements have been made across sectors, in health, nutrition, water, sanitation, education, child and social protection. Measures were also taken to promote equity and gender equality.
As part of the Voluntary National Review, the government consulted widely and presented quality data on progress against the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ghana can also celebrate being the first country in the world to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility in February 2021. As a result of the country’s readiness, more than 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far and the country is set to conduct a new nationwide campaign in the coming days.
In the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Sector, community-led approaches have helped reduce open defecation, especially in the north of Ghana.
Through the Basic Sanitation Fund and increased engagement of the private sector, households have had greater access to toilets. Safe water was also supplied to more high-density low-income communities in urban areas.
In addition, Ghana has set a benchmark as being one of the few countries in the West and Central Africa Region to have in place a robust social protection system, which targets the most vulnerable and excluded, including through the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme. The Integrated Social Services initiative now spans across 160 districts and has strengthened linkages and referrals across social sectors, meaning that fewer vulnerable families fall through the cracks.
The government is to be applauded for reopening schools swiftly, and its commitment in this year’s Transforming Education Summit. The free Senior High School programme has contributed to increased enrolment of girls.
More child-friendly gender-based violence courts and police interviewing rooms have helped increase access to justice for child victims.
Indeed, significant progress has been made. Yet some challenges remain. Over 28 per cent of Ghanaian children are in monetary poverty, and 73 per cent suffer from multiple deprivations. The northern regions and rural areas are particularly affected. Maternal and neonatal mortality rates are still high in Ghana.
While mortality among children under 5 years of age has been halved since the 1990s, one-fifth are stunted due to malnourishment. Full birth registration is yet to be achieved, with only 75 per cent of children under 12 months of age registered. Children still experience limited access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities, particularly in rural areas.
Half of children aged between 5 and eleven years are enrolled in primary school at the right age, with significant gaps in learning outcomes in basic reading and mathematical skills. Almost three out of ten children aged 5 to 17 years are involved in child labour.
Over 38 per cent of girls, aged from 15 to 19 years, experience sexual violence, and the reduction of child marriage among girls under 15 has stagnated since the 1980s.
Across all age groups, violence at home and in school, online and offline, affects too many children in Ghana. It is therefore important to implement policies and enforce laws on the protection of children from all forms of violence and exploitation.
Studies show that children with disabilities are more likely to drop out of school, work in the informal sector, and live below the national poverty line.
Over the past years, Ghana has increasingly promoted the rights of persons with disabilities and has been at the forefront of inclusive policies.
Through the campaign ‘It’s About Ability’, we support efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination, to ensure equitable access to inclusive services.
Climate change and the Sahel crisis spill over to coastal countries are additional risks affecting the well-being of children, young people, and families, especially the most vulnerable. Through our UNICEF Field Office in Tamale, in the north of Ghana, we support efforts to strengthen the resilience of institutions, communities and individuals, including young people.
We encourage all actors to join forces in upholding the rights of children. We see this goal as both an ethical and wise investment for the country’s present and future. Together with partners, we seek to address the root causes of poverty and inequality to promote the wellbeing of children and young people.
Let’s remember that the most vulnerable are more susceptible to the impact of the current global economic crisis and other shocks. It is therefore critical to safeguard social sector spending, to ensure equitable access to quality and inclusive social services. We recommend investing in children and youth to unlock their potential and contribute positively to economic prosperity.
As part of the UN Country Team in Ghana, UNICEF is fully committed to continue working alongside the Government and all partners. The recently approved Ghana - UNICEF Country Programme of Cooperation sets out our joint strategies for 2023-2027, in line with national, regional, and global priorities.
Ghana was the first country in the world to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990, by which it committed to uphold children’s rights and their best interest. We encourage the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of children, Child prostitution and Child pornography, and the amendment of the Children’s Bill.
Children and young people matter. Through their participation in decision-making processes, they can contribute meaningfully. Let’s continue to enable their voices to be heard as full citizens and rights holders. With their talents, they have taken initiatives to innovate in addressing social issues that affect their communities. Let’s give them more opportunities to shine.
Together, let’s leave no one behind. Let’s contribute to a better world for children.
The writer is the UNICEF Representative in Ghana.