The Experience of Ghanaian Children
Parental poverty seems to be the main impediment to children’s Right to free Primary Education in Ghana, as many children still do not attend school due to lack of basic necessities and learning materials.
The Stand Ghana team has been informed that even some of the children in school are there at a heavy price since a number of them are compelled to engage in negative practices such as sleeping with men for money in order to be in school.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that primary education should be made free; similarly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted in 1989 by the UN General Assembly and came into force on 2nd September 1990, also affirms that primary education must be made available free to all.
The reality however is that although each child supposedly has the right to free primary education in Ghana, many children, especially those from very poor families are still not able to enjoy this right even when they are not expected to pay fees.
The reason Art 28 (1a) of the Child Right Convention requires states parties to make primary education compulsory and available free to all, is to ensure children of school going age are really in school for proper formation and development of their personalities. Yet this objective is sadly far from reality in many communities.
Ghana was one of the first to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Ghana ratified this convention on 5th February, 1990). As a result, primary pupils in public schools do not pay tuition fees. Even though this is laudable, the fact remains that many children still do not attend school due to lack of financial support.
Our interactions with some parents and teachers indicate that the real cost of getting a child through primary school is not payment of tuition fees, but the numerous expenses parents make to get the child ready for school.
For example, aside tuition fees, parents have to provide school uniforms, note books, exercise books, pens, other learning materials, as well as PTA dues just to name a few.
In addition, parents also have the responsibility to ensure their children’s basic needs such as prescribed shoes. socks and underwear for example, are provided regularly. This is a huge responsibility for many urban poor and rural farmers in Ghana today.
Many parents and guardians said they are unable to bear the cost of educational materials and what it takes to get their children to school daily due to financial constraints. This is particularly true of rural communities where most parents and guardians depend on extremely scanty incomes from subsistence farming.
We are reliably informed that to be in school, some JHS girls are forced to sleep with men for money to buy pads for their menses – otherwise they will have to stay at home.
This issue came to light again at one of our human rights educational events on child rights and responsibilities. The PTA chairman lamented about the fact that some of the JHS girls were no longer spending the night with their parents but with men and were going to school straight from the men’s homes instead of their parents’; and this is affecting their performance in class.
When asked during our interaction with them whether the PTA chairman’s allegations were true, the children said yes.
We are alarmed and deeply worried about this development considering the possible negative impacts on these girls – such as the risk of sexual violence, getting sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies which could eventually lead to their dropping out of school and destroying their future.
We have to remember that by preventing children from going to school due to poverty, we are preventing them from having a better future and being useful to society.
There‘s no doubt that poverty is a major challenge to a child’s right to education; and unless the issue is properly tackled, the right to free primary education will remain a mirage for many children.
We call on government and other stakeholders to step-up more on the agenda of poverty alleviation. We urgently need to tackle severe poverty in Ghana head-on and genuinely. Only then can we truly talk about the right to free primary education for all Ghanaian children.
By Rose-Mary Kayi