Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Read a few of the Swedish blogs this evening. It seems some politicians, or Maud Olofsson in particular, has suggested that the child support grant be income based. For those of you who don't know, in Sweden, for every child you have, you receive a grant, no matter what your financial status is. This is to assist parents with the expenses involved in having children. If you have above a certain number of children (3 or 4?) you also receive multiple children additional grant (my attempted direct translation of flerbarnstillagg). It is quite common that at a certain age, this amount or part of it is given directly to the child, around the ages of 15-18. I remember that in my day it used to be 750kr per month, when I was getting it directly (or part of it, honestly don't remember) it was reduced to 640kr and as soon as I turned 18/19 it went up to 750kr again and the next year up to 1050kr (appoximately GHc 130, will have to check for more accurate figures).

It's quite a nice sum of money, but honestly not everybody needs it. Still, apparently the discussion that is going on is because anybody earning over 20,000kr per month will not receive the grant. To me, after looking at the kind of salaries you can earn in Sweden and the expenses incurred in a month, I think 20,000 is a bit of a low threshold. I do not think a person who earns 20,000kr is a high income earner.

However, what really comes to mind is the different worlds we live in. In Sweden the average salary is sooo much higher (as of course are the expenses), and yet because we are used to receiving a certain amount of money, a lot of households will struggle if this grant is taken away from them. Yet in Ghana, there is no such grant, and salaries are a lot lower than in other parts of the world. I can only imagine the fear, anxiety and pressure anyone will be under as you expect your first child in Ghana. Where is the fallback system? If I fall seriously ill, what grants will help me and my family survive? If I lose my job today, what am I going to live on?

Ghanaians have found their own way around the social welfare system that we have in Sweden. Firstly, in Ghana, we don't leave home at the age of 18 or 20 to live in our own flat, we stay at home til we get married, hopefully by then, us or our parents have saved up enough to pay the 2-year (!) deposit required before renting a place. FYI: rents in Accra are currently a lot higher than rents in Gothenburg. An average two-bedroom flat in Cantonments, not necessarily newly renovated or in a flashy building, can be let for $1,000-1,500! So it just doesn't add up. Our salaries here are fractions of what we are paid abroad and yet many of the expenses are a lot higher.

Anyway back to the fall back system, "rich" relatives have poorer ones come stay with them, and either relatives or strangers are taken on as house-helps, and in most cases sent to school whilst they live with the family. I remember learning in sociology in Sweden (L.M.) that Ghana had one of the highest rates of child labour in the ages 15-17. I was horrified, how could my beloved country take part in something so horrible? However coming here, I have realised it is our society's way of dealing with poverty until the Government finds a better way for us to handle it. But for now it works as best it can. In most cases you may not have a success story, but at least a positive one of a girl who comes to work for a family in the city, they pay for her basic schooling, so that when she leaves she's completed her 'O' levels and possibly 'A' levels and usually learnt a trade, e.g. hairdressing or sewing so that she can set up a small enterprise of her own. There are also some sad stories of girls (or boys) who are mistreated and end up back in their villages without gaining anything from their employment. But the success story that makes me smile is that of my auntie's "house-girl", let's call her Rosie:

Rosie's parents brought her to my auntie when she was approximately 11 or 12 (it's not that she doesn't know her age, I just can't remember). They pleaded that my auntie let her stay in the house and do some chores in exchange for receiving education. Rosie would go to school all day and after school she'd help my auntie prepare dinner, chopping tomatoes for stew, etc. My auntie soon realised she was really bright so she decided to pay for her 'A' levels and later on her courses in accounting. Rosie as always, excelled and is now months away from becoming a chartered accountant, after completing the ACCA. I find it wonderful that she started out as a house girl and is now going to be raking in the money (chartered accountants are not cheap!). To me it means that even in our Ghanaian society that is so hell-bent on keeping rigid class structures, there are always possibilities to break those boundaries, even without dramatic cinderella stories, like being discovered on the street and then becoming a supermodel, but that through very undramatic studying and patience, you can really reach anywhere.

Sky's the limit.

Rosie's little sister has now gone to stay with that same auntie. Only time will tell what will become of her.

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