Child Labor in the Gold Coast: The Economics of Work, Education, and the Family in Late-Colonial African Childhoods, c. 1940-57
- The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2011
- pp. 88-115
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Historical knowledge of childhood in the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) is sparse and too often disconnected from a global historiography that has convincingly demonstrated the "child" to be a social construct. In contemporary discourse the "African child" is most commonly portrayed as either aspiring scholar or helpless victim—images that are echoed in the fleeting appearances of children in Africanist historiography. This essay, by contrast, explores the economic aspects of childhood in the colonial periphery and paints a more complex picture of the "African child." Children in the twentieth-century Gold Coast were vital economic actors and agents: at once producers, consumers, and accumulators of wealth. They remained so despite the political and commercial upheavals of the colonial period. Exploring the economic use and the social purpose of child labor illuminates both the material experience of children and their place in the household and wider society—and it sheds light, too, on the question of why both illiteracy and child labor are stubbornly persistent in modern Ghana.