Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Why do children work? ‘To learn a trade’

Many children see vocational training, not formal schooling, as the way to escape back-breaking work

6 April 2022, 6.00am
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 15 years old. I carry loads at the market for shoppers, run errands, and do other jobs. I came to the city of Kumasi to find money to support myself. My parents died when I was two and I have lived with my late mother’s sister ever since. She treats me like one of her six children. Her husband also passed away and she takes care of all of us.

Her own job is as a pito (local beer) maker. She doesn’t earn much, so all of us used to sell bottled water on the streets to support the home. Things became even harder with the COVID lockdown. My auntie was not able to work for more than a month and she lost all she had saved up. Some days we didn’t even have food to eat!

My two oldest cousins, who are 16 and 17, and I decided to do what we could to help the situation. We came to Kumasi with some other girls to find work and send money back home. We also wanted to learn a trade before we go back. I’d like to learn hairdressing, and my cousin wants to become a seamstress. We were all attending school, but because of the situation at home we decided it was better to learn a trade instead. Our auntie said that if that is what we wanted she wouldn’t stop us. She travelled to work when she was younger and that’s how she saved money to start her work.

“We would not have to carry loads if someone supported us to learn jobs that would secure our future.”

I don’t like my work – and sometimes I regret coming – but I can’t go back empty handed. Carrying loads is not easy. Your body aches all the time. People insult you. Some people are kind, but most people do not respect us. I wish the public would understand that it is not our choice to do this work or live like this. There are reasons why we are working, and we deserve respect and dignity when they see us.

We need help to achieve our dreams. The happiest day of my life will be when I start learning to become a hairdresser. But I don’t know when that will happen. We would not have to carry loads if someone supported us to learn jobs that would secure our future. We know that life would still be difficult at home and situation would not change overnight. But at least we would have the hope that, once our training is over, we could start working in more respectable, safer, and less difficult jobs.

At the moment there is very little hope. We are not earning enough to both support our family back home and pay to learn a trade. I fell ill two weeks ago and we spent all we had on medication and hospital bills. So, if the government doesn’t want us to work in these sorts of jobs, it should open training facilities and apprenticeships for those of us who want to learn a trade. If such opportunities existed we would not have to work as we do now. We would get trained, and by the time we were 18 we would be our own masters and provide opportunities for other girls or boys who are in the situation that we are in today.

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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