Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Why do children work? ‘To attain my future’

Many say that working children should be in school. But for many children, work is what gets them an education

29 March 2022, 8.00am
Hayford Telli. All rights reserved

This story is part of a series of child worker voices that Beyond Trafficking and Slavery gathered in the Lake Volta and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana, areas frequently targeted for intervention by people seeking to end child labour. The children were asked to describe their work, why they do it, and how the country's decision-makers could help them. Their answers were translated out of the local Twi language and edited for clarity.

I am 16 years of age. 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 can’t count the number of times I have been offered money for sex. I always refuse, but I know that several of the girls have done this when they were in a difficult spot. The pay itself is not good, so we have to try to get tips. That comes with many issues.

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.

Occasionally I also work during the week. 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.

Young people would be very happy if we got the support we needed to stay in school without work.

In the future I want to become a nurse. That is the main reason why I have to work: so I can keep learning. I’d like to tell our leaders that, if they want to help those of us who are working in prohibited jobs, they should give us more support for our education. They should give us money every week or month so that we can pay for our school supplies, lunch, and transportation. That way we could focus on our studies and achieve our dreams.

We could grow up to become people who could help the country and other people. I know some people think that the children would take the money and not attend school. This may be true. But I know many of us want to attend school, we just don’t have adequate support. So we find the ways and means to do so through work. That’s my message. Young people would be very happy if we got the support we needed to stay in school without work.

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. I want to continue doing that until I get where I want to be or until my needs are catered for.

About the Artist

My name is Hayford Telli and I'm a self-taught artist in Accra, Ghana. At 11 I was inspired to draw by the cartoon series Captain Planet, and my first sketches were of the show's characters. I continued to develop my skills by doing portraits of friends. Eventually I began to earn income by busking as a sketch artist on the street and by selling my own work. Art has opened up my life opportunities after much adversity as a child. I am now an entrepreneur in street art and digital designs. I also offer other youth life chances by giving them training and employment. We hope to extend our services and horizons beyond the borders of Ghana and welcome anyone who is interested in working with us.

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