The shame of a 56-year-old country was exposed this week by a child rights advocacy group, Challenging Heights - Ghana, which constantly preens itself as middle income country, also boasts of one million illiterate school-age children, aged between five and 15, who roam our streets nationwide, idling away or doing child labour during school hours.
Challenging Heights warned that Ghana was wasting the future of the children and that "if concrete steps were not taken to educate them, they would take to crime and engage in activities detrimental to the national interest". The NGO said the occurrence was contrary to the article 560 of the Children's Act 1998, which mandates parents to educate their children.
The Director of Public Affairs at the Ministry of Education, Mr Paul Kofi Krampah, regrets that so many children were still not in school, despite numerous social programmes put in place by government to make education accessible and affordable, claiming that government had played its part by providing free education, free books, free school uniforms and free food.
He urged metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) to enact bye-laws to compel parents to send their children to school.
On the other hand, Mr Stephen T. Adongo, Director, Department of Social Welfare, which is mandated to enforce children's right to education under the Children's Act, said the department has not been able to carry out its functions for lack of funding, stressing "we have the mandate but the resources and structures must be in place".
Besides educating parents, the children and communities on the benefits of acquiring education, Mr Adongo said the department needed to put up temporary shelters for children picked off the streets.
The Chronicle finds the attempt by the Ministry of Education to shift the blame for the one million children being out of school disingenuous. No matter what the Children's Act may say, the duty of ensuring that all Ghanaian children attain nine years of basic education is that of the government.
Agreed, the government has gone quite some way to ensure that children are in school, as enumerated by Mr Krampah, but it is not enough, when he still talks of affordability.
We are not talking of Senior High School on which the 1992 Constitution is somewhat ambiguous. The constitution has been in use for 20 years now, whereas it requires that basic education should be totally free and compulsory within 10 years of the constitution coming into force.
The Chronicle would like government to realise that like the gold fish, it has nowhere to hide on the issue of basic education; free and compulsory basic education is already 10 years in arrears. And that is enough.
The Chronicle calls on the government to give the Department of Social Welfare all the resources that it needs to carry out its mandate. Lack of money is not acceptable as excuse when the executive and legislative arms of government swim in gargantuan freebies and self-awarded remuneration.
The government should empower the Department of Social Welfare now and then announce a date within this year when parents of any school-age child found on the streets during school hours would be arrested and jailed summarily.
Ghana, widely toasted as a bastion of democracy in Africa and a middle-income aspirant, can no longer afford the shame of having one million children, and still counting, out of school for alleged lack of resources while we engage in frivolous expenditures all over the place.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!