By Robin Pierro
Joseph is 12 years old, with a small body that is toned and fit from fishing with his father for the last three years. Since becoming a fisher boy, Joseph has stopped going to school.
“After my senior brother died, my mother said I shouldn’t go to school anymore,” he says. “I wanted to stay in school, I liked it. But fishing gives us money.”
Joseph lives with his family in Chorkor, a fishing community in Accra known for having a high rate of children who don’t attend school. Many fish instead. Joseph usually wakes up around 1 a.m. and swims 100 meters offshore to his family’s boat, where he’ll work until sunrise. The rest of the morning is spent maintaining the boat with his father. Everyday he hopes for a good catch that could bring the family 10 cedis ($7 CAD).
Joseph explains that his father has taught him a lot about fishing and that what he has learnt on the boat is more useful than what he was learning in school.
“Because I work, I understand how money is. I didn’t know about money when I was in school,” says the boy. “I will be able to have my own boat one day and teach my sons how to fish.”
Ablekuma South, the Member of Parliament for Chorkor, says many children here learn to fish from their fathers—it’s like a cultural apprenticeship. However, he insists the tradition is leading to high numbers of children out of school. “They fish, and they make their money from fishing,” says South. “[Parents] are not going to be inspired to send their children to school.”
South says he cannot and should not stop children from learning the traditions of their elders, but he believes they need to balance this with getting a formal education. He suggests children work with their fathers or elders on weekends or after school instead.
James Anan says that it’s time to move on from the custom. “It’s not about the tradition anymore, it’s about the law and what the law says,” notes Anan, the director of Challenging Heights, an NGO dedicated to rehabilitating child labourers. “What they are doing is depriving that child of a future.” In Ghana, denying a child the right to go to school is illegal.
Daniel Quaye has been fishing for over 25 years in Chorkor. His two youngest children are in school, and his two eldest sons work with him every day. He says his sons were happy to take on the family trade, but he wishes they could have graduated high school.
“If I had more money I would send them all to school,” Quaye says. “I know school is good, but I needed them to work with me on the boat.”
The Ghana Child Labour Survey, conducted by the Statistical Service of Ghana in 2003, found that 20 per cent of children between the ages of five and 17 were involved in child labour and not going to school—that’s around 1.8 million children like Joseph working instead of receiving a formal education.
In the afternoon, when 12-year-old Joseph has finished his duties for the day, he gets time to play with other fishermen’s children. They gather together on top of a beached boat named Lucky Boys. His laughter and exuberant dance moves atop the bow are a reminder that he’s not even a teenager yet.
Among some people in Chorkor, Joseph is considered a lucky boy—he has a family, friends and a future as a fishermen.