It is the first day of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). Candidates of the Sawoubea Junior High School (JHS), a mixed sex school in the Wa East District of the Upper West Region are seated ready to write the examination that would pave the way for them to continue their education.
But unfortunately, there is no female among them. Where are they? They are in their husbands' houses either cooking breakfast, attending to their crying babies or enduring the morning pains of teenage pregnancy.
This is the scene that plays in my mind whenever I recall the Ghana News Agency (GNA) story published on October 26, this year which revealed that in the 25 years history of the school, no girl has completed because of child marriage.
According to the Upper West Regional Girls' Education Officer, Madam Annacleta Viiru, the highest educational level girls in the area have ever attained is JHS two before they are sent off for marriage.
Almost all these girls never return to school. They are simply denied their right to education and a childhood. Imagine this happening to your sister, niece or daughter.
Like these unfortunate girls, there are many children out there whose rights have been trampled upon through child labour, trafficking, abuse and all manner of injustice.
Today, Wednesday November 20, is 30 years since world leaders took a bold step to firm up child rights protection by adopting the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC or CRC).
The legal framework was opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20, 1989 and entered into force on September 2, 1990, in accordance with article 49 of the convention.
The laudable move was in furtherance of existing frameworks including the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly 30 years earlier.
Three decades down the line, how has Ghana fared in achieving the vision of creating a world in which children are free from discrimination, violence, neglect and all forms of violence?
Containing 54 articles divided into three parts, the CRC covers the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children less than 18 years, including rights to education, healthcare protection from economic exploitation, sexual abuse, child marriage, child labour, torture or physical abuse.
The 196 countries that ratified the convention agreed that "that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".
The convention said to be the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history has stimulated governments to alter laws and policies and make investments" that promotes the human rights of children.
Ghana is one of such countries. She was the first to ratify the convention on January 29, 1990 by harmonizing previously existing child care legislation to conform to the CRC to create the Children's Act 1989, Act 560.
According to Cynthia Morrison, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, since then, various legislative and policy frameworks including Child and Welfare Policy have been drafted and enacted to promote child rights.
Others, she said were the National Justice for Children Policy, Inclusive Education Policy, Trafficking Act, Juvenile Justice Act (568), Adolescent Health Service Policy and Strategy and Expanded Programme on Immunization Policy and Domestic Violence Act and Human Trafficking Act.
The capitation grant, free Senior High School programme, school feeding programme, amongst other are also avenues the country has introduced to improve access to education; a key human right.
For the minister, Ghana was making headway in its quest to promote child rights and stakeholders will explore all avenues to continue to strengthen national laws to protect children.
According to data from the UNICEF, the rate of out of school children in primary and lower secondary has also reduced from 23 per cent to 19 per cent in 2017.
Child marriage is becoming less common in the country as one in five young women, constituting about 19 per cent, today, were married before they attained 18 years.
The figure is a slight decrease from 21 percent recorded seven years ago. Per the UNICEF data seven per cent of women aged between 15 and 19 years were currently married; a figure that has remained constant for seven years.
When it comes to violent discipline, a whopping 94 per cent (nine out of 10) have been victims.
MORE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Although the feat is commendable and has helped advance child rights, the ensuing startling statistics, are enough evidence that the country needs to double its efforts.
The Ghana Living Standards Survey Round Six (GLSS6) conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service, estimates that there are 1.9 million children between the ages of five and 17 involved in child labor .
It also states that children who combine economic activities and school comprise 26.3 per cent while their non-schooling peers constituted 41.6 per cent.
For sexual abuse, the 2017 Criminal Investigations Department Annual Crime Statistics report, at least three children were defiled daily in Ghana in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. That is over 1,000 children each year.
UNICEF is one of the UN agencies that have provided a lot of support to Ghana's efforts through various programmers. It is topping its efforts by setting up a Child Protection Digital Forensic Laboratory at the Ghana Police Headquarters.
The Laboratory is to equip the Police with tools to prevent and respond to cases of online child sexual exploitation, bullying, trafficking and cyber stalking, which have become rife due to the digital revolution
In what could be a form of assessment, the UNICEF Executive Director, Ms Henrietta Fore, in a televised message at the launch of the 30 years of the UNCRC, applauded Ghana for its numerous efforts at safeguarding the rights of children.
However, she noted that "journey is not yet finished. One out of every five children in this country is stunted; many children don't have access to clean water and sanitation. And too many still face the barriers of poverty, discrimination and inequality".
For UNICEF, though 30 years has passed, child rights have not changed neither do they have no expiry date. But childhood has changed. Unlike 1989, there is now a rise of digital technology, environmental changes and mass migration are creating new threats, and new opportunities, for children to realise their rights.
It is their call that all stakeholders work together to seize those opportunities and identify solutions to old and new threats standing in the way of the realising child rights.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presents an unparalleled opportunity to make more strides in child rights promotion since it embodies almost all the rights the UNCRC espouses.
With children being the main future beneficiaries of the 2030 agenda, all hands must be on deck to ensure no child is left behind. For every child, there must be a childhood; one that is worth remembering. You and I have the magic wand to make this happen.
The writer is a journalist