| Updated Oct 16, 2017 at 6:48pm


Rebecca Ekpe speaking with some children rescued but involved in Child Labour for economic reasons at Kpando Torkor-Volta Region.


At the 72nd United Nations General Assembly held in New York, startling figures were revealed in relation to child labour issues. The International Labour Organization, ILO estimates show that One Hundred and Fifty Two (152) million children worldwide are in child labour and more than forty (40) million people are victims of forced labour, forced marriage, modern slavery and human trafficking. ILO also said, one(1) in every five(5) children in Africa is engaged in child labour. If this menace continues, what will be the future of Africa's children?

In this Special Report dubbed ''SDGs EIGHT PLUS FOUR'' GBC's Rebecca Ekpe argues that SDG Goal Eight's focus on sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work should be effectively linked with SDG Goal Four's equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. Rebecca Ekpe was at Kpando Torkor in the Volta Region of Ghana, one of the Lake Communities prone to child labour and tells the story through the lenses of a former victim of child labour, Freeman and what the community is doing to keep the children in the classroom.

In Kpando Torkor Evangelical Presbyterian School, many of the children are or have been victims of child labour. They are susceptible, by virtue of nurture, their environment, call it location, where they were born. According to the ILO, Child labour is highly prevalent in situations of poverty, parental illiteracy and environments with cheap and un organized labour. On entering Torkor, one comes across a plant that provides water for the community, so the children stop going to fetch water during school time. Kpando Torkor, one of the Volta Lake communities is about three and a half hour drive from the capital Accra. It has high economic advantage, but ironically, it is a poor community where the children become baits for child labour.

Former Victim of Child Labour, Freeman said he has seen more than twenty children die at sea especially during the rainy season. As the name speaks for its self, 26 year old Freeman was a victim of child labour for more than 17years, and was lucky to be rescued by anti-child labour advocates. Freeman said he had a Scholarship from the General Agricultural Workers Union to continue his education at Have Technical Institute, where he read Building and Construction for three years. After which he continued at the Koforidua ICM Diploma Collage. When Freeman was asked if GAWU had not given him a scholarship, what would he have been doing? He smiled and said ''the net''. Freeman explained that by Four in the morning they moved the nets out and came back by 9am with fish for their clients, and the women to buy.

According to Freeman, he had no choice but to move the nets and make a living for his family. Today, Freeman is an Accounts Officer, sponsoring his younger brother's education. Freeman paid a visit to where he received basic education, the Kpando Torkor Evangelical Presbyterian MA Basic School and it was all joy. The stories of Freeman and others put Kpando on the International Map. With the international attention, representatives from more than twenty countries fighting child labour were at Kpando Torkor to understand the fight against child labour by small agricultural producers and fisher folks. They had questions on group cooperatives, how the fisher folks organized themselves among other issues.

Meanwhile, some of the fisherfolk were not happy and said some people took some pictures of them and they found themselves on television. The General Agricultural Workers Union, GAWU of the TUC, Ghana initiated anti-child labour activities there, through an intervention dubbed, ''the Torkor Model.'' It hinges on using community based approach to address the people's concerns. Simon Steyne with the International Labour Organization, ILO, based Geneva, Switzerland says child labour is not about handouts, but an issue about ''rights''.

According to Mr. Steyne, to fight child labour means the dependence of small enterprises on child labour must be addresses. He said ''finding the cause and trying to address that because getting the people who are part of the problem to be the solution. At the Kpando Torkor Evangelical Presbyterian School one can clearly see the General Agricultural Workers Union ,GAWU 's posters on the walls which reads; ‘STOP CHILD LABOUR, I HAPPY TO BE IN SCHOOL.’ These are the posters seen on the compound. Ironically, some of the school children engage in fishing for their livelihood. Interestingly, it is easy for their friends to call them out. And they are trapped in poverty. I find Agbesi, who is 14 years and John. These are children who have been rescued, they were involved in child labour, some of them find themselves doing the same thing for the sake of survival. I have Agbesi here fourteen, John seventeen and they've been telling their stories.'' John said they have no way of survival so they have to find a way to go fishing to take care of themselves. But the good news is that they are in school. But, what about the children who are not in school? We are told their school is the shrine. So they get up in the morning and they go to the shrine. Child Rights Activist, Andrews Tagoe said it was an arduous task to get the children out of the shrines.

He said all of them are musicians and choristers. In the morning when people are going to school, they went to the shrine ''and they will be drumming, they will be singing ye ye ye ye.......''They will be singing and then the fetish priest will be dancing. So I asked Mr. Tagoe again what sort of songs they sang . He replied '' Ye ye ye ye.....'' He said they were threatened by the Shrine Master when they went to rescue the children and took them to school. Freeman corroborates his story and said the children were there because, ''when the parents default the gods they will sent their children to our shrine to serve for the punishment''. He explained that the shrine needed ''virgins to come and serve at the shrine.''

Unfortunately, these virgins were children who should have been in the classroom. What if Freeman remained on the Lake without an education? He would have been counted as one in five of the millions of children in Africa engaged in child labour. Let’s protect the children, because they represent the future. That is the essence of ''SDGs EIGHT PLUS FOUR.'' A simple message to tell the stories about creating avenues for productive employment and decent work and promoting education and life lifelong learning opportunities.

After all, as Nelson Mandela said ''Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world."

BY Rebecca Ekpe.