Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Why do children work? ‘We have no helper in this world’

Inequality is at the core of child labour, so why isn’t redistribution seen as the solution?

31 March 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 14 years old. My older brother and I make our living selling coconuts. Our parents are farmers, but they are both old and can’t work as much as they used to. Sometimes the produce is left unharvested or goes rotten unless my brother and I help out. My mother’s health is also bad; she often needs someone to look after her.

For these reasons I had to miss a lot of school. I was already not doing well, and one day I decided to stop going. My parents were not happy at first. But after a while they stopped hassling me to attend.

My brother suggested that instead of farming, we should go to the city of Kumasi during the week to find work and then come back home on the weekends. We have done that for the last two years. Through the money we make selling on the street we have been able to support ourselves and our aged and ailing parents.

Selling on the streets of Kumasi is not easy. We pull the heavy coconut cart for long distances every day and by evening our bodies ache. Sometimes we come across public gatherings or a good spot to park the cart, but usually we have to pull the cart from one location to another. It is very tiresome. I don’t want to do this forever and I am always thinking of ideas for how I can bring my suffering to an end.

“I can’t be happy if I get food and clothes but my parents get none.”

Our main problem is that we have no helper in this world. That needs to change. The government, the powerful, and those with money could reduce the number of young people doing hustler work by sharing their wealth with those less fortunate. They could give us the food, money, clothes, and other items that make us go out and work every day. They could give us what we need for school. The government has made secondary high school free, but it’s still only for those who can afford the school supplies and transportation needed to attend.

They must also remember that we are not by ourselves. Their help must also reach our families and parents. I can’t be happy if I get food and clothes but my parents get none. If that happens my brother and I will still have to find a way to help them. So, in addition to offering young hustlers help, our parents must also be supported. They could be given loans or grants to open their own businesses. And those like my mother, who cannot work, should be given support for hospital bills and healthcare needs. That way my brother and I don’t have to suffer to find this money for her.

The two of us have got many plans. We want to go into business. From selling our coconuts and doing other jobs, we have learnt about goods that sell fast and those that don’t. Our dream is to open a shop in our home town instead of travelling to Kumasi. But we don’t have the capital for this business. If we or our parents were given some type of financial support, we could start a family business that’s not as difficult as selling coconuts. My brother and I could even continue our education while our parents run the shop. I’d still want to work there though. I like earning money for myself.

This is my suggestion for how our problems can be addressed, and many of the young hustlers I know agree with this idea. We need help, not only for ourselves but for our parents and families. If there isn’t enough for all of us we will have to support them. I hope that those who have the authority to take action will listen to my ideas.

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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