International Children's Day: The social vices impeding children's rights and development

Accra, Nov. 20, GNA - World Children’s Day is a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) annual Day of action for children, by children.







The Day, established in 1954, is celebrated annually on November 20 to promote international togetherness, and awareness among children worldwide and improve children’s welfare.

Observed by the United Nations (UN) as a cultural and commercial day, it also commemorates the declaration of rights of the child by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1959.

This year's celebration under the global theme: "A better Future for Every Child", corroborates more critical than ever, the call for leaders to listen to children's ideas and demands.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how inequality affects the rights of every child. From climate change, education and mental health to ending racism and discrimination, children and young people are raising their voices on the issues that matter to their generation and calling for adults to create a better future.

More than thirty years ago, following the adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child by the UN on February 5, 1990, Ghana was the first country in the world to ratify the treaty, thus committing to integrate it into national law.

Despite the legal bases to protect children’s rights and the progress made regarding infant mortality and education, significant obstacles still stand in the way of accomplishing children’s rights.

The hardships and difficulties faced by children in Ghana include slavery and forced labour, poverty, physical and moral violence, sexual abuse, poor quality education, and certain ancestral rites, according to the Children's Rights Index.

As indicated in the 2013 UNICEF report, verbal, emotional and physical abuse in many forms is part of everyday life for many children in Ghana.

In this 2013 study, more than 57 per cent of the children questioned, aged 14 to 17, said they were hit at home, either regularly or very often. At the same time, 34 per cent testified to violence endured at school by teachers. The use of violence to educate and reprimand children is part of the country’s social norms.

Furthermore, this social phenomenon is institutionally reinforced by-laws, allowing “reasonable” physical sanctions on children.

Sexual abuse of children is still common. A 2015 study showed that the prevalence of children who had been sexually abused was around 27 per cent for girls and 11 per cent for boys.

Unsurprisingly, girls are more likely to be sexually abused than boys. Abused children sometimes have great difficulty in disclosing this abuse to those around them for several reasons. Among them: believing they can handle it on their own, the conviction that they wanted this sexual act, perceiving the abuse, as usual, the fear of being stigmatised or the feeling of betraying a friend by revealing the abuse they suffered.

In the north of Ghana, as in parts of other West African countries, ancient traditions and rituals have led to ritual killings of children. Most of these children suffer from a disability, and the reason for their ritual killing often stems from the belief that they are possessed by an evil spirit that brings bad luck to those around them.

Poverty, ignorance and the marginalisation of some communities are the underlying causes.

Unfortunately, these murders go unrecorded, and no one knows how many children die each year by these obscure practices.

Children living on the streets are frequent in Ghana. According to a survey in 2001 by the Ghana Statistical Service, 80 per cent of these children are between five and 14 years. As young as they are, street children must find work to meet their needs. The difficult living conditions on the streets and their lack of professional skills push many children into prostitution to survive.

Their precarious situation makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Unsurprisingly, most of these children left school prematurely, resulting in an illiteracy rate of around 70 per cent.

Accra, the country’s capital with over five million people, is the Ghanaian city with the most street children. The underlying causes, which push the children into such precariousness, are: Rural flight and Poverty in the family environment-challenging economic conditions, which mainly affect the neighbourhoods and regions from, which these children come.

In Ghana, one in five children under the age of five is stunted in growth, while one in ten is underweight for their age. Two in three babies are also at risk of being physically and neurologically underdeveloped due to undernourishment.

The aftermath of malnutrition in young children can have devastating consequences on their development and lives - learning difficulties, weakened immune systems, and increased risk of infections.

The significant decrease in the number of breastfed children and low dietary diversity are the main factors of malnutrition in young children.

Neonatal mortality is due to premature births, infections and complications during and before childbirth. Despite the availability of prenatal care and skilled midwives in health facilities during childbirth, newborn and maternal deaths remain high.

As Ghana joins the world to mark the Day, Mrs. Cecilia Abena Dapaah, Caretaker Minister, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), has called on stakeholders to support quality digital education to children.

She said embracing the power of digital solutions would help to transform learning and skills development for an entire generation of children in the country.

In a speech read on her behalf at the 3rd Session of the Children’s Parliament, Mrs. Dapaah said the COVID-19 pandemic had proved the importance of critical digital knowledge and skills as the drivers of education and national development.

Ghana's commemoration was marked on the theme: ”Investing in our future means investing in our children.”

Mrs Dapaah said Ghana had been confronted by an urgent need to bridge the digital divide between the rich and poor and boys and girls.

She also noted that Africa lagged behind the rest of the world and that girls trailed boys in accessing and using digital technology.

The Minister said digital tools were essential in expanding digital skills access to remote areas and the most vulnerable.

Hence, the need to develop strategies to ensure those skills were provided timeously and equitably and be matched by the connectivity to use them.

“It is the goal of Government to connect every child and school to the internet and provide new, digitally-driven tools to help them develop skills to realise their potential,” she added.

She said Government had provided free education up to Senior High School, radio and Television broadcast of lessons.

She said they had also reached children in remote areas with learning tools and provided internet connectivity to many secondary schools and that the Government intended to expand the project to primary schools.

Mrs. Dapaah urged critical partners in the public and private sectors to support the call by Government to provide internet connectivity, devices, affordable data and the engagement of young people.

In a speech read on behalf of Mr. Solomon Tesfamariam, Country Director of Plan International Ghana, the emergence of COVID-19, global warming and climate change had affected and continued to affect children in diverse ways.

He acknowledged the efforts of the Government and other agencies towards advancing the well-being, rights and equality of children.

A Facebook post by UNICEF in marking the Day, read: "As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, UNICEF is on the front line, helping to keep children and families healthy and safe in over 190 countries and territories."

Ultimately, to say we are concerned about the child's future and wait a decade or more to take action is an exercise in futility.

The little steps all stakeholders take today, every minute, every second, must be one with today's child in mind, not only the unborn child.

The future for every child is now or never.

GNA