Challenging Heights, a child rights advocacy organisation in Ghana, is warning of a “very bleak” future for about one million Ghanaian children who are out of school.
According to Challenging Heights, the children, aged between five and 15, could be found across the country selling on the streets or engaging in some sort of child labour at times when they should be in school.
Speaking to The Mirror in Accra, the President of the organisation, Mr James Kofi Annan, described the development as “worrisome”, saying, “We are wasting the future of these children.”
Mr Annan said the presence of children on the streets at times when they should be in school contravened Act 560 of the Children’s Act of 1998 which mandates parents – whether single or married – to educate their children.
“There is no excuse for any parent to refuse to educate his or her children because the 1992 Constitution makes it compulsory for all children to access at least basic education,” he added.
He called for urgent and decisive action to get the children off the streets and enrol them in schools, a move which he said was critical to safeguarding their future.
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He said many of the children would resort to crime and engage in activities detrimental to the national interest if concrete measures were not taken to educate them.
He stressed the need to sensitise and build the capacity of parents to enable them to educate their children and ensure social protection for them.
Mr Annan called on government agencies to begin enforcing the right of children to education by arresting and prosecuting parents who refused to send their children to school.
He also emphasised the need to improve educational infrastructure across the country, so that more children could be accommodated.
Commenting on the concerns expressed by Challenging Heights, the Director of Public Affairs at the Ministry of Education, Mr Paul Kofi Krampah, expressed regret that many children were still not attending school, in spite of the numerous social programmes put in place by the government to make basic education accessible and affordable.
He said the government had played its part by providing free education, free books, free school uniforms and free food at the basic level in order to make basic education affordable to even deprived Ghanaians.
Mr Krampah said the removal of 40 per cent of ‘schools under trees’ and the abolition of the shift system were all efforts aimed at making basic education more accessible to children.
He said parents whose children were not in school lacked an understanding of the importance of education and called on the relevant agencies to educate such parents in that regard.
Mr Krampah said one effective way of getting children off the streets would be for metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to enact bye-laws that would compel parents to educate their children of school age.
That, he said, would enable the assemblies to keep track of children in their jurisdictions and ensure that they went to school.
The Department of Social Welfare (DSW), which is mandated to enforce the right of children to education, as guaranteed in the Children’s Act of 1998, said it was concerned that many children were not attending school.
The Director of the DSW, Mr Stephen T. Adongo, said his outfit had not been able to enforce children’s right to education because of the lack of resources.
“We have the mandate, but the resources and structures must be in place,” he said.
He said the DSW needed resources to educate parents, children and communities on the benefits of acquiring education.
He said shelters were also needed to temporarily house children who had been picked up from the streets.
Mr Adongo called on the government to provide the resources needed by the DSW to implement those projects, saying, “There is no future on the streets.”
“There should be commitment to this cause. We should recognise the importance of social development and make social protection a priority in this country,” he added.
He also called for an improvement in the quality of education in the country, a move which he said would make going to school more appealing to parents and children.
Mr Adongo said efforts must also be made to create more jobs, as the high unemployment rate in the country was a disincentive to many children who would like to go to school.
Story by Samuel K. Obour