DURBAN, May 27 (IPS) – Selimatha Dziedzorm Salifu was just seven years old when she first started working to support her family.
Born in the fishing village of Kpando-Torkor, in Ghana, Salifu, she was forced to work in the local fishery when her father Seidu died, leaving her mother, Mary, with six children to eat, clothe and shelter. The industry is well documented for child slavery and trafficking.
“When my father died, I ended up in child labor because my mother had nothing to take care of my brothers and sisters. She started traveling in a canoe to the islands (on Lake Volta) to buy fish, and sometimes I would help her with that, and help other fishmongers who were in the same business,” Salifu, now 25, told IPS in an exclusive. interview. † “I helped them for a fee to prepare, cut and clean the fish for the market.” She spoke to us on the sidelines of the 5e World Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor in Durban, South Africa.
“I would wake up at 4 am and be there. We were a lot of kids in the village so I had to get there early to get a client. The boys went fishing, they didn’t go to school and some were treated badly on the lake. They would be pushed into the water to save the nets (if they got entangled). I found that when I went to school I was so exhausted, I slept in class and my teachers asked me why,” Salifu said.
Her wages were only one or two Ghanaian cedis who could buy ‘kenke’ (similar to sourdough) and a little rice. Other children were often paid with just one small fish for their daily work with Tilapia fish, mud fish and electric fish, Salifu said.
Despite her difficult combination of work and school to survive, Salifu had a dream: one day she would become a teacher and help children like herself.
“Sometimes it was very difficult to get food on the table, and buying a school uniform was very difficult. I almost dropped out of school, but the God I serve saved me. I had a vision to be a childcare provider, to have my own institution to support children on the streets, just like myself,” said Salifu. ‘And one day I met this man on the bank of the river near my village, on the bank, while he was going about my daily routine. I told him my story and he said he would talk to his team and they would help me.”
That man was Andrews Tagoe, deputy general secretary of the General Agricultural Workers’ Union, or TUC. He is also regional coordinator for Africa of the Global March Against Child Labour.
Tagoe had worked in the village, advocated against child labour, talked to parents and taught them the importance of sending their children to school instead of working.
“I met the parents in the village and the fishermen and talked about decent work and the fishing process and normal union issues,” Tagoe said.
He said most parents wanted their children to become lawyers and doctors, but they were working on the beach during school hours.
“So I got up and went to look at the beach during school time around 10 a.m. and found the beach full of kids doing activities, carrying fish, and I looked to the left, and there were classrooms and teachers with no kids,” Tagoe said. .
Tagoe then made it his mission to reach the working children like Salifu and started meeting them and talking about their lives, hopes and dreams.
“The parents also said that we were not aware that the unions work with child labour. So let’s see what we can do to start a Child Labor Free Zone. Child labor has decreased tremendously and more children are now attending school,” he says.
“Since 2000 to date, the union has helped more than 4,500 children across the agricultural sector, from rice, cocoa and palm oil to lake fishing,” Tagoe said.
According to a report by NORC from the University of Chicago, in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone, nearly 1.6 million children are involved in child labor in the cocoa industry.
NORC conducted surveys of children between the ages of 15 and 17 between 2008 and 2019, showing that cocoa production has increased by 62%.
However, the report acknowledged that the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana had implemented educational reforms such as free education and compulsory attendance to combat child labour. As a result, school attendance by children from agricultural households rose from 58 to 80 percent in Côte d’Ivoire and from 89 to 96 percent in Ghana.
Salifu said Tagoe’s team — she fondly calls him “daddy” — helped her stay in school to follow her dream.
“I thought my prayers had been answered. They came to take responsibility for my school (work), buy my textbooks, and I was able to write elementary education exams,” said Salifu.
She went to school in the morning and worked in the afternoon to support her family.
Salifu received her Basic Education Certificate and then worked for six months buying and selling fish in nearby towns to raise money for Senior High School.
“Again, GAWU supported me by paying part of my fees. I finished high school in 2016 at the age of 19. I’ve always dreamed of being the best teacher in the world, owning my own attitude and working with children,” Salifu said.
Her dream was partially realized when she got a job at a local school before moving to Accra where she studied at a Montessori teacher training institute. She obtained her National Diploma in Montessori Training and started working at Tender Sprout International School in Accra.
“Where I work, the children come from good families and are even dropped off at school. But I want to go back to my community and help my siblings in the village and the nearby communities and islands to help free them from child labor,” said Salifu.
“I still want to build on my dream of helping the orphans and getting the kids back home. My mother is also very old now, so I have to support my other siblings and my mother at home. There is no money at home, so they look up to me. I have to go back to college to get a degree in early childhood education.”
“God saved me now because some friends my age eventually quit, and some had teenage pregnancies and STDs. I’m very, very lucky,” Salifu said.
Salifu hopes that telling her story will be a voice to help those still trapped in child labor escape.
“I think our voices need to be heard here so we can go back and launch a project with our brothers and sisters so we can help them. That’s my motive for being here. The dream has to come true,” said Salifu.
IPS UN Office Report
This is one of a series of stories published by IPS about the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor in Durban, South Africa.
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