Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Why do children work? ‘We will not have food to eat’

When children work to survive, who can demand they stop?

28 March 2022, 9.42am
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 13 years old. I live with my mother and father, four brothers, and two sisters. Our father is a security guard, and our mother sells porridge and bread at the market.

My two sisters and I help with our mother’s porridge business. Every day but Sunday we wake up at 4 am to help her prepare. My sisters and I fetch water and make the fire while our mother prepares the millet and other ingredients for cooking. The porridge is ready to be transported to the market by 6 am. I usually go with the van and start selling it while my mother prepares a second batch. When she arrives, I go back home and get ready for school.

I go back to the market after school to sell what is left and help my mother pack up. I started supporting my mother when I was about eight years old. I am used to this routine now. I like working with my mother and the two of us are very close, but the situation is very difficult for me. Sometimes I am very tired when I go to school and I find it hard to concentrate on my studies. I also don’t have enough time at night to do my homework because my sisters and I must wake up at dawn the next day to make the porridge again. Most of my classmates do not have to go through this and I wish that was the same for me.

I want to share my ideas about what must be done to support children in situations like mine. The first thing is that our families need money. My father’s job doesn’t pay well. He works from 8 am till late at night, but his salary is barely enough to pay our rent and bills. What we get from selling porridge is used to buy food and other things we need at home.

“Children like me don’t have any choice.”

If we don’t make porridge every morning, we will not have food to eat. I wish I did not have to wake up very early every day, but I must do it to help my family and myself. If my sisters and I don’t support my mother we can’t continue going to school. Our money for lunch, fees, and other school needs comes from what I sell in the mornings before my mother takes over. If customers don’t buy enough we don’t get everything we need for school that day.

So, we need more money for our families. Our MPs, the president, and people in high positions should understand that children like me don’t have any choice about our work. They should also understand that our parents try to keep us from working too hard if it is possible. My mother and father are sad that we suffer so much in our family. If they had enough financial support, they could provide us with all our needs and we wouldn’t have to go through this hard life.

I know they are both already doing their best, but we don’t get any help from our leaders. I’d like my father to get more money for his work and my mother to get some money from the government. Maybe something like a loan, so that she can open her own restaurant. I’d still want to help her. But if they both had enough my mother could pay someone else and my sisters and I wouldn’t have to work as much as we do now. We could put more focus into our studies so that we can pass all our exams and have a brighter future.

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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