At the age of 17, Ama (not her real name) has been into prostitution for four years. She ran away from her mother after a short misunderstanding to engage in the business in Kumasi, and she has since been living in a brothel. Together with her other age mates, they sleep with men to make ends meet.
Recounting how she got into prostitution at a consultative meeting organised by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, in Accra on Tuesday, Ama said she was influenced by her peers.
Amid tears that she wanted to do something better with her life and was, therefore pleading with people present to help her and her other friends, she said owners of the brothel where they lived sometimes took advantage of them.
The meeting, which brought together religious leaders and faith-based organisations, was aimed at making input into a National Child and Family Welfare Policy, which is in the offing.
Ama is not in this dilemma alone, according to the Ghana Child Labour Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in 2003; an estimated 6.36 million children in the country were engaged in paid economic activities and nearly one in every five children was engaged in some form of work that could be classified as child labour.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Ghana Baptist Convention, the Victory Bible Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the EP Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church.
Others included representatives of the National Chief Iman, other Muslim leaders, the Federation of Muslim Councils and traditional leaders. Statistics
Giving statistics on how the country has performed in its child protection programme, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, said 58 per cent of the country’s population, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, are under 24 years, with 20 per cent of the population between 15 and 24 years.
According to the minister, early and forced marriages were still prevalent in the society, as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2011 of women aged 15 to 49 showed that six per cent of women marry before age 15, while 27 per cent marry before age 18.
Also 94 per cent of children aged two to 14 years had experienced some form of violence and physical or psychological form of punishment, while 14 per cent of children aged two to 14 years had experienced severe physical or psychological punishment.
On child labour, she said 15,000 to 17,000 children between age eight and 17 were working as head porters. Addressing the challenges
Nana Oye said lack of synergy and coordination in child protection programmes was greatly responsible for the numerous challenges that bedevil the country’s child protection system.
In 2010, she said a mapping exercise showed that although there was a progressive legal framework, implementation was, however, poor.
Also it identified that juvenile justice was not integrated into the broader justice system, as laws also failed to take the local situation into account.
Again it identified that there was no linkage between formal and informal service provision and the lack of a comprehensive national policy framework for child protection, among others.
She said the main focus of the new Child and Family Welfare Policy was to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of children and families by supporting and promoting family and community strategies and processes, as well as help address the challenges that children faced in the areas of family-related challenges, child maltreatment and behavioural challenges.
The Executive Director of the Salt and Light Ministry, Rev. Dr Joyce Aryee, who moderated the meeting,said children were vulnerable and society must, therefore, not overlook that fact, saying that it was time to pause and re-think, as the country could not over-look the obvious.
The UNICEF Country Representative, Ms Susan Sangon, commended the ministry for drafting a child welfare policy for the country.
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