It’s been nearly three decades since Ghana signed and subsequently ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; concluding the process which effectively commits all sovereign signatory nations like Ghana to the agreed provisions of this Human Rights Treaty, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of the children of our individual countries.
It therefore would be in right order, after almost three decades, to subject the practical implementation of the provisions in the treaty to a value audit, vis’ avis the dedicated resources (human capital, financial, landed and mobile properties etc.) expended towards same over the period. And also know the scope of real work done.
The rights of a child are sacrosanct or must remain inviolate ad infinitum, and therefore every person or entity undertaking to ensure or assuming the responsibility to execute or see to the execution of these rights for and on behalf of any child anywhere, must necessarily be above board in the discharge of such duties.
JOURNEY SO FAR
The United Nations ought to be appreciated for this bold initiative taken many years ago to protect the rights of children in the Nations, and subsequently establishing tangible presence in all the signatory countries over time, to aid the effective implementation of the provisions of the ratified conventions.
This is no mean a task, and ought to be acknowledged and applauded accordingly.
With the exception of TAIWAN, WESTERN SAHARA, KOSOVO, SOUTH OSSETIA, ABKHAZIA & NORTHERN CYPRUS, the UN’s presence in all other nations is enough evidence of a well-structured international organization with a firm grip on its assignment.
And considering its visible undertakings, humanitarian efforts, personnel and infrastructure (moveable and immoveable), across these countries certainly lends credence to the existence of a viable organization.
A visit to the UN’s many websites leaves one with a very warm impression of a body, seriously in pursuit of its Mission Statement to make every person in the world feel its motto, QUORA, meaning, IT’S YOUR WORLD.
It is my respected view, however, based on my study, that for the nearly three decades now, the United Nations has been growing at a great pace, but in size and structure, rather than substance and relevance, at least as far as the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its implementation are concerned.
The United Nations currently has over 25 Agencies, Organizations and Fundsworking in the jurisdiction of Ghana, but I have chosen, for the purposes of this write up, to limit myself to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its practical implementation, and results thereof.
ON THE GROUND
The following are expected to be EXPERIENCED or practically FELT by the children of Citizens in every Member Country, which includes Ghana.
- That their best interest is sought, in all things and at all material times
- That their custody is assured – which to my mind, speaks to security and protection
- That their right to life is assured – which to my mind, speaks to sustenance and survival
- That they are raised by their parents
- That they have a relationship with their parents’ even if separated, among others.
At the time of signing and ratifying this Convention, all Sovereign Nations, including Ghana knew that appending their signatures, meant that they were bound by international law to practically see to the perfect execution of all the provisions contained in the treaty, failing which, some sanctions may apply.
Now, in my neighborhood, and its adjoining ones which are comparatively, well-structured and orderly, children (by U.N definition) numbering over one hundred have grown from their homes onto the streets and out of school. And this is just over a period of six years; gradually turning pockets of the hitherto serene and orderly environment into noisy filthy slums.
This is just but a single moderate example to prove that the SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE and GOVERNMENTAL FRAME – WORK within which these U.N Convention provisions would find expression, are simply non-existent in practical terms.
And such is the trend in many a locality, especially, the densely populated areas. The reality on the ground is that, children receive very scanty or no care at all.
Without any form of scientific date, one can count not less than 40 children at a go in Kaneshie market alone, between the ages of 7 – 15, doing brisk business. Some offering to carry wares of shoppers, either to their cars or to their homes (with all the probable dangers associated with following total strangers to unknown places).
These children appear quite unkempt, obviously for lack of regular bath (if any at all) but visibly frontal in their approach to getting shoppers to patronize their services for a fee.
Others simply wander about till night falls to beg or steal edibles to feed from unsuspecting sellers and passersby. When the day’s work is over, these children lie in front of shops to pass the night. (a few pictures attached for your perusal)
What is the future of all these children, even if there were only five (5) of them in this situation? A loaded question begging for answers from all well-meaning persons of our generation.
There is even a more damning situation some of these minors, dangerously running in between vehicles (pictures attached) on our major roads daily to sell all manner of things just for survival.
And everybody looks on this as though it was ok. Question is; by the UN Convention on the Rights of the child, must a child work for survival? If not, why has that existed prior to its ratification till date?
The situation of child prostitution, which is another head-splitting one, is on the rise. I reference a recent a damning research finding of Dr. Georgina Oduro, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Cape Coast, published April 30th by the GNA revealing the worrying trend of 11 – 17 year olds engaging in Prostitution. Other research finding also reveals the some children take as low as GHC1 to allow sex due to poverty.
This is disgraceful and dehumanizing, to put it mildly.
The demeaning condition of head porters, popularly known as “kayayoo”, which has clearly overwhelmed successive governments, is dangerously escalating.
I wish there was a word, worse enough to describe this phenomenon than shameful, especially when we remain partners with the UN to minimize the existence of such conditions, if not to totally eradicate it.
Obviously the growing trends in these near hopeless conditions in our countries, all togethercast a very dark shadow on your well-intentioned work over the years.
Unfortunately, I cannot look at this counter progressive practical reality and still keep touting successes for the UN Agency and its partner implementing agents (Governments).
THIS IS FAILURE! On whose part? I believe it is a shared one.
I admit that apart from constantly engaging with and supporting governments at various levels, most of the UN Socio-economic interventions have also been executed in the very deprived remote villages of our country, many of which benefitted poor citizens and improved their living conditions; substantially curbed the spread of some diseases etc.
Sadly though, the overall impact of these laudable engagements and interventions had been the scores and hundreds of “hopeless” children, many of them, teenagers daily migrating to non-existent “hope” in the already choked big cities, thereby making many destitute and vulnerable, living at the mercy of the harsh reality of no shelter, no food, no clothing and no jobs.
Therefore, there’s virtually no choice for these children than to do just anything to survive.
The reason why this is extremely worrying is that, in spite of these harsh realities in the so called big cities, many more of these children keep running away from the deprived rural communities into this same harsh environment; thereby raising the number of poor, struggling and desperate settlers in a fast growing cosmopolitan environment without plans to absorb or integrate them into this society.
A clear case of ‘find your level anyhow’, once you get in.terrible situation!
One cannot even be cautiously optimistic anymore, seeing this is an easy breeding ground for more criminal activities, prostitution, and exploitation in all forms of the poor and vulnerable as well as other social deviance as we have it now.
The future is a bleak one with this trend, in the era of a signed partnership agreement with the UN, I’m afraid.
According to the signed and ratified provisions of this treaty, the child’s best interest shall be sought after in all things at all material times.
I’m afraid, not even our children in school have this right enforced for their sakes; of those in public schools and private schools alike (which I shall write extensively on at a later date).
After nearly 30 years of existence and implementing these supposed inviolable provisions of the convention in this country, and the resultant effect on the ground, one can only bow his head in shame and say, this is a collective failure; not needing the kind of approach we’ve employed so far ostensibly to solve problems arising from implementation, latest of which I curled from your own document – CRC/C/GHA/CO/3-5, Headed, CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS ON THE COMBINED THIRD TO FIFTH PERIODIC REPORTS OF GHANA.
Under MAIN AREAS OF CONCERN AND RECOMMENDATIONS, the report actually laments about general measures of implementations regarding previous recommendations in respect of arts 4, 42, and 44, paragraph 6 of the convention, which largely feeds into my position that there is insufficient implementation and in some instances, there exist a huge evident gap between established law and practice in reality.
The committee further expresses its concerns about the continuous absence of a comprehensive policy and strategy on children in our country, which to my mind, is a clear indictment on all parties to the convention on the rights of the child, considering to number of years it has remained in force.
In spite of the non-availability of a deliberate comprehensive policy and strategy on children, which is known to the UN already, and the evident neglect and hopelessness of many a child in our country, Ghana has succeeded in outmaneuvering the Organisation with beautifully worded grammar and law reports over the years, without a corresponding practical results of implementation, as evident in the CRC/C/GHA/CO/3-5.
All things being equal, the Commission on the rights of the child shall return to Ghana in September 2020 routinely to the same rhetoric and a much gloomier reality of the plight of vulnerable children in this fine part Africa.
Is it connivance to keep the status-quo, which exhibits itself in the clear lack of proper measures of execution and institutional framework or a well-intended review and sanctions mechanism?
I have identified the following inter-alia, as the problems presently militating against this, rather thoughtful and progressive effort by the UN to protect the rights of the child in this country and others.
- SOCIAL DISCONNECT
- LACK OF GOVERNMENTAL COMMITMENT
- FLAWED ACCOUNTABILTY PROCESS
- SANCTIONS REGIME
The average person on the streets of Ghana and their children, who I believe, are the ultimate target of any intervention from your end, are totally in the dark.
This disconnect is certainly one of the reasons why there exist implementation challenges.
Because in cases where you need their inputs, there will be either non-cooperation or total defiance. And in cases where people need to demand what is due them, it never gets done, because they simply don’t know what to demand and from whom.
This can be fixed by reviewing your educational materials content and processes. And also to have a deliberate localized education, via radio, television, social media, town hall meetings, personal engagements etc. (must be restructured, if this already exists)
LACK OF GOVERMENTAL COMMITMENT
Nothing could be further from the truth of the lack of governmental commitment to the UN agreement to protect the rights of the child; especially with the absence of a comprehensive National policy and strategy on children, several years down the line, and the evident total negligence of vulnerable children’s welfare in Ghana since the signing and ratification of the convention.
Unless successive governments make bold to say that the lives of the children captured in this presentation, and many more that my lenses couldn’t reach, DO NO MATTER, I respectfully do not see any justifiable defense against the verdict of LACK OF GOVERNMENTAL COMMITMENT in this matter
This can be fixed by ensuring that all the crafted laws and various amendments dovetail into a deliberate comprehensive policy and strategy, which then becomes the National Framework within which to execute all matters concerning children, plus properly agreed timelines within which enforcement of same shall commence.
This should have been the first step after ratifying this convention, and therefore, an urgent MUST today. It’s better late, than never.
FLAWED ACCOUNTABILITY PROCESS
The problem with this accountability process is that, it gave and continues to give successive governments a good space to make good their obligation to the CRC even when it is being completely negligent at its obligations towards its citizens. So the end result is that, irrespective of how much is expended, children continue to die needless deaths, some, malnourished, loiter without parental care, sleep in dirty mosquito infested slums, some being abused by their own parents, guardians or even teachers, others abusing drugs and in prostitution… the list is just endless, whilst we continue to write fine reports to the CRC.
This can be fixed by reviewing the process to accommodate a different tier local partner, empowered to independently submit reports on the true state of affairs, side by side the government’s periodic reports. Additionally, the CRC representatives may fold their sleeves and enter into the trenches to ascertain the true state of affairs before sitting to receive reports from governments
Every serious organization that commits resources (human, equipment or financial) to its cause, should certainly have a response time to which those entrusted with the resources must also commit to; and a sanctions regime that makes it difficult to flout or disregard the terms of existing agreements. I know that generally, sanctions in the UN setting, which include, fines, trade embargoes, assets freezing and travel bans on politicians, where applicable, would not be agreed upon within conventions, and may even depend on State Parties’ willingness to accept to be bound by these sanctions. I respectfully suggest that this is a weak sanctions regime.
I further hold that the lack of enforceable sanctions, whether economic or in other form is responsible for member states flatly flouting the provisions of the convention.
Is there any wonder that, for the almost three decades of your existence in Ghana, one can easily see your imposing infrastructure, personnel, vehicles etc., but very little in terms of the effect of your work?
Indeed, you have grown in size and structure rather than substance and relevance, and that is a real problem!
The UN’s greatest power, in many situations is the relevant committee’s condemnation of a particular State’s conduct or action, in its general recommendations or concluding observation report, which usually may only bring political embarrassment to the government of the day. This is obviously not deterrent enough to any State Party, which includes ours.
This can be fixed by reviewing the sanctions regime to include immediate reversal and annulment of member status after flouting the treaty on, say, the rights of the child for two consecutive review periods, reinstatement after achieving convergence and making the sanctions strictly enforceable.
I bemoan the complete lack of care and support that many of our poor and vulnerable children are subjected to, in their country.
I bemoan the lack of a comprehensive national policy and strategy on children, whiles our child rights treaties with the UN remain in force.
I bemoan the rising rate of child prostitution and the seeming lack of might to curb it in Ghana. I bemoan the plight of children who have no other choice but to sell or do all manner of jobs to survive.
And I totally reject the numbness of the United Nations in all these matters.
The rights of the child are inviolable. Therefore any person or entity that undertakes to ensure the execution of these rights for and on behalf of the child must do a thorough job, end to end.
It is completely immoral to carry oneself or be seen and known as a child rights protector or advocate, when in reality; one is not even able to strictly hold offending member states to the binding international laws.
It is completely unacceptable to run such a prestigious international organization without sanctions, punitive enough to deter its parties from violating the provisions of signed and ratified conventions.
The UN must as a matter of urgency purge itself of this damning verdict.
There is an urgent need for a frank conversation among member states, leading to immediate progressive reforms in the UN, at least, as far as the convention on the rights of the child goes.
By Mike Nii Abossey
Mike is the founder of MA Love Foundation in Accra.
P.O Box KN33, Kaneshie