Four children describe their work, why they do it, and how decision-makers in Ghana could help them. Their answers were translated out of Twi and edited for clarity. Longer versions of the texts have been published by openDemocracy.
This boy used to help his father fish on Lake Volta. When he was just 13 years old, he was separated from his family by police and NGO workers.
Last year they came to take us from our parents by force. We were on the lake, and they came with guns and weapons. They screamed at our father and said he was a bad man because he should have taken us to school instead of bringing us fishing. They took us away in their speedboats. But before that, they made us take off our clothes and took pictures of us semi-naked with the canoe paddles. I don’t know why they did that, but it made me feel very bad.
I remember it when I sleep sometimes. They took me, my siblings, and many other children from nearby communities to a place we didn’t know. We were there for about six months. They didn’t let us see our parents or anyone from our family. I asked about them, but the people who were looking after us didn’t know. Those people were kind to us. They gave us good food and nice clothes. They took us to school and did other things for us.
But I was angry and sad all the time, because they also said bad things about us and our families. I didn’t agree that my father is bad. He takes care of all of us even though we don’t have a lot. We fish together to feed ourselves and get what our family needs. The work is hard but I like working with my father, and he does the hardest parts.
If those people had asked me and my siblings why we were fishing that day, we would have told them it was because we want to help our family and not because we were being forced. We also want to go to school. The school in our area is very bad, and so we would have told them to build better schools and find teachers to help those of us who attend. But they didn’t want to listen to us. They had their own ideas.
This 17-year-old boy works as a fisherman on Lake Volta. He has lived in the area for eight years, and says that the work has been essential to his survival.
One day a fisherman who had worked with my grandfather passed through the village. My grandmother asked him if he would train me like my grandfather had trained him when he was a boy. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave my grandmother. But I wasn’t going to school anymore and there was nothing for me in the village. I was about 10 or 11 years old at that time. I have been living and working with him ever since.
My grandmother passed away last year. I am very sad about that, but I am also happy that she benefitted from me before she died. For the last three years I was able to send her some of the money I had earned. I feel very proud about that.
I am very grateful to this man. I don’t know what would have become of me now if I hadn’t stayed with him. I found fishing very hard at first. I missed my grandmother every day and wanted to go back home; all the more so because he would hit me if I did something wrong or he thought I wasn’t working hard. That’s one thing fishing and school had in common. The teachers used to hit us with heavy canes if we couldn’t say the times table or the words on the board, or if we didn’t know the answer to the questions they asked us. It was a reason I didn’t like going to school.
Coming here has helped me to become a man. I now know everything about fishing. I can do all the jobs, and I often go out by myself to work on the lake if he is not around. Right now I am saving up to buy my own boat and then I will go my own way.
This 16 year-old girl works in a bar in order to afford her studies. The work is difficult but she says she needs it to get by.
I work at a bar in the evenings. It is a very popular place and I am rushing around all the time getting people’s drinks and food orders. I often don’t sleep before midnight or 1 am. I like the work, but it comes with many problems. You have to know how to manage yourself and be alert all the time.
The biggest problem is when the men get drunk. A lot of the customers make sexual advances even when they’re sober, like touching you when you’re serving them. It is worse when they are drunk.
I mainly work on the weekends when the bar is busiest. My parents know about my work. They do not oppose it because it allows me to pay for the things I need. Sometimes I’m even able to give them money when they’re having problems. They also don’t oppose it because it’s part time – I still go to school on the weekdays. Senior high school is now free in Ghana, but I still need money for transportation, lunch, and other things to be able to attend school every day. And I don’t always have it.
We have learnt about child labour and child rights at school, and I know that I am not supposed to be working at a bar at my age. But I don’t agree with this idea even though what I do is not easy. What options do we have if we are not able to work? I don’t see my future in bar work, but that is what is helping me to attain my future of becoming a nurse.
This 14-year-old boy and his brother make a living selling coconuts on the streets of Kumasi. Their elderly parents are unable to fully support them so the boys do the best they can.
Our parents are farmers, but they are both old and can’t work as much as they used to. Sometimes the produce is left unharvested or goes rotten unless my brother and I help out. My mother’s health is also bad; she often needs someone to look after her.
For these reasons I had to miss a lot of school. I was already not doing well, and one day I decided to stop going. My parents were not happy at first. But after a while they stopped hassling me to attend.
Selling on the streets of Kumasi is not easy. We pull the heavy coconut cart for long distances every day and by evening our bodies ache. Sometimes we come across public gatherings or a good spot to park the cart, but usually we have to pull the cart from one location to another. It is very tiresome. I don’t want to do this forever and I am always thinking of ideas for how I can bring my suffering to an end.
Our main problem is that we have no helper in this world. That needs to change. The government, the powerful, and those with money could reduce the number of young people doing hustler work by sharing their wealth with those less fortunate. They could give us the food, money, clothes, and other items that make us go out and work every day. They could give us what we need for school. The government has made secondary high school free, but it’s still only for those who can afford the school supplies and transportation needed to attend.