Monday, April 12, marks International Day for Street Children and one of the problems which have been engaging the minds of many Ghanaians over the years is the issue of “the second generation of street children”, that is children of street children in the streets of Accra, Kumasi and other cities in the country.
Children born on the street are the most vulnerable because of the type of environment they found themselves in. They are always in constant danger of becoming ill, being associated with crime and other unlawful practices. They grow up without any culture except that of the street. Most often, the fathers of these children are not known or do not want to be known, making the women be the only persons who cater for the children.
These children do not belong to any tribe and therefore do not learn any cultural values since their mothers are survivors themselves and do not have enough funds to cater properly for their children; hence you will see them roaming and making friends while their mothers try to earn some money at the market or the street.
It has been the view of many concerned people that unless something was done about the issue of streetism, moral decadence, violence and crime in the country would only increase, including drug abuse, murder, stealing, homosexuality, lesbianism, prostitution, armed robbery and indecent exposure.
The second generation of street children only learns the culture of violence, cheating and illicit businesses. With the influx of children and youth from the rural areas to the urban centres, the perceptions of people still hold valid that children who are the future leaders of Ghana precisely, future Doctors, Engineers, Architects, Lawyers, Journalists and other professions, would be having a long way to go as about two million are engaged in various forms of child labour while about 21,000 are also on the streets.
A walk or drive along the streets of Accra, Kumasi and their environs, a common spectacle hits one’s eyes of how these young ones have one way or the other turned the streets to a supermarket while some as young as between 6 to 15 years are seen selling while others between 15 to 24 years are seen nursing babies who belonged to them or their parents. There are also some children aged between 5 and 17 years who prefer to be involved in working in the various sectors mentioned above than being in School to become great people in the future.
It is also glaring to see these children engage in various sectors of the economy including commercial, agriculture, fishing, weaving, mining, truck pushing, pottery and illegal mining (galamsey) under all circumstances instead of going to school or be apprenticed to a master tradesman or learn some trade or vocation.
Interestingly, unlike the mothers of the second generation of street children who had some cultural background, their children learn only the language of street children which is survival”.
The activities of the street children and their children in a way could be equated to the slave trade in ancient day Ghana, after over 200 years of the abolishing of the slave trade in Africa. As humanitarian sentiments grew in Western Europe with the Age of Enlightenment and the growth of religious groups such as the Quakers, and as European economic interests shifted slowly from agriculture to industry, a movement grew to abolish the slave trade and the practice of slavery.
Research by the University of Ghana in 1990, suggested there were about 4,000 street children in Accra. Six years later, the Catholic Action for Street Children (CAS), an NGO established in 1992 to provide support to children living on the streets of Accra, Tema and Ashaiman Metropolis, conducted a headcount and the number was closer to 10,400 children, an alarming increase of more than 6,000 children. In 2003, CAS again conducted another headcount and believed the number to be 15,300.
The headcount conducted in 2006 by CAS, in selected areas of Tema and Ashaiman, proved the number of street children to be a horrifying 21,140. In addition to this, 7,500 street mothers were below the age of 20 and another 14,500 urban poor children. Ten years on, the number could have gone even higher in 2016.
These statistics show the alarming rise in the number of children who live, work and spend at least some of their time on the streets of Accra.
These are the children that CAS strives to help.
Situations in other African countries are no different from Ghana, as many children abandoned School and opt to work to earn a living because of either broken family or single parenthood.
Making rounds through the principal streets of major cities in Ghana, Kumasi, Accra, Takoradi, Koforidua, indeed confirm how some children are neglected by their parents because either they (parents) are unemployed or financially handicapped.
Many of these children are regrettably seen in the hot sun selling biscuits, ice water, toilet roll, toffees, dog chains, pastries, detergents, decorative items, and clothing. Others also engage themselves in carrying luggage for a fee (female head porters) popularly called kayayei as well as truck pushers, just to make a living. The question that naturally comes to the mind of the common person is, “do our children have a future?”
When I interviewed some of them on the streets, it was a clear indication that some of these children were runaways escaping harsh treatment from their parents or guardians or forced marriages. Others do not want to succumb to training by guardians or do not want to live in a structured environment. Some also were attracted by the notion that the cities promised heaven or luxurious life and this led them to the cities to look for money to fend for themselves.
Nonetheless, there are those who have the good intention of saving money to learn a trade, vocation or to further their education as they have no supporter or helper and those who are from broken homes or single-parent homes.
A story is told of a female head porter, whose name was Amina. She said she lived on the streets for seven years. According to her, a friend from her hometown at Jirapa in the Upper West encouraged her to move along with her to Accra to look for a job.
Amina and her friend travelled to Accra and settled with a longtime friend at Agbobloshie, a suburb of Accra, just to realise that it was not easy to get a job as she had anticipated since she left school at the age of eight. Since their stay became a burden to the friend, she asked them to relocate and fend for themselves. This, she said resulted in her moving to the street.
Asked why she obliged to follow her friend, Amina said, “I do not know what exactly happened but maybe because I was in hardship and lost my parents at a tender age”. “I was going through a lot of hardships and I thought my friend’s encouragement will salvage my woes”, she added in depressed form.
Speaking in a broken Twi language, she said, “I have to move to the street and at night I sleep under stalls at Okaishie but I do not experience any sexual harassment”. Amina has been a porter since 2002 and has two children, according to her. Asked who the father of the two was, she only retorted, “Since I am able to look after them, the father was not an issue”.
The harrowing experience and success story of Sakinatu Ali, who through the support of the Catholic NGO, Catholic Action for Street Children (CAS) has been rehabilitated and integrated into society is fascinating.
Sakinatu hails from Bawku in the Upper East Region of Ghana and lost the father at a very tender age. Though she had started formal education, she was very unlucky to have come out of school without a formal Certificate as she dropped out at primary four due to the death of her father. She followed her stepfather to Accra and she underwent many street experiences, leading a rough type of life.
According to Sakinatu, she spent four years on the street of Accra selling iced water and oranges for money. She left home because of the relationship between the stepfather and herself. “I don’t want to recount my story with my stepfather”.
Like most other street colleagues, Sakinatu never enjoyed real parental protection and love because she ended up early in life becoming a parent and the one responsible for a large family of about ten including her stepsiblings. Eventually, she left everything and went to the street.
“I have no regret going to the street because it played a major role in shaping my life”. Her life was indeed shaped when she encountered CAS in 1999 during which she was registered as a visiting street child. She visited the CAS regularly and participated in almost all programmes run by it.
In 2000, she had the opportunity to benefit from the CAS sponsorship package to learn hairdressing. Earlier, she had the ambition to become an actress as she explored in the CAS programme but could not because of her language problem.
According to Sakinatu, “I needed the courage to work under my mistress because I was determined to learn hairdressing as a profession for my life”, adding that, “I could have run away but I stayed because of the motivation I received from CAS. They provided me with all I needed to go through the two years training by occasionally working part-time to make a few Cedis”.
The government of Ghana has passed several Laws and signed a number of Treaties to guard against exploitative forms of child labour. Article 28 of the 1992 Constitution prohibits labour that is considered injurious to the health, education, or development of the child. Ghana has also signed three key International Treaties that ban certain practices of child labour.
Additionally, Ghana has passed its own Laws on child labour. These include the Children’s Act of 1998 and the Labour Act of 2003, both of which address child labour in detail. The Children’s Act bans all exploitative labour and echoes the 1992 Constitution’s prohibition by defining this type of labour as that which denies a child of health, education or development. The Act additionally bans a number of child labour practices that it lists as “hazardous”.
With the efforts of NGOs, Ghanaians need to be guided also by Article 28 of the 1992 Constitution, which states, “every child has the right to the same measure of special care, assistance and maintenance.” This calls for all Ghanaians especially governments, Church leaders, politicians and parents to be responsive to the Children’s Act of 1998, which prohibits anybody to subject children to inhuman treatment. Article 8(1) of the Act states that “no person shall deprive a child access to education, immunization, adequate diet, clothing, shelter, medical attention or any other thing required for his development”.
The provision in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana on the rights of children, led Government to create the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Department of Children, Social Welfare and Special Police Unit for Child Protection.
The African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child also requires that every child has equal rights and freedoms. These rights should be the same for every child, no matter who they are, where they live, what language they speak, what culture or religion they follow, how rich or poor they are or whether they are a boy or girl.
The success story of any government depends on her commitment towards social development policies and addressing the needs of young people. Ghana is a leader in children’s welfare and protection. In the world, Ghana was the first country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hence, a comprehensive Act 560 for the protection of children in Ghana was passed. In Ghana, children constitute about 52 per cent (0-18 years) of the population.
The fact that we have acknowledged this responsibility as a country and still continue to avoid tackling the problem headlong makes this situation more troubling. If we are not noticing, reporting, or enforcing these infractions, then our well thought outlaws would be nothing but meaningless pieces of paper put together.
Creating a society fit for the Ghanaian child means all children should get the best possible start of life and have access to quality basic education. They need to be helped to develop their individual capacities in a safe and supportive environment.
This is the utmost need for every Ghanaian to promote the physical, social, emotional and spiritual development of children to make Ghana one of the countries that have designed programmes for children on the African continent.
Parents who thought the way to lessen their burden was to send their children onto the streets to beg or do filtering and all kinds of menial jobs, must be brought to book to face the full rigours of the law. Appropriate authorities and stakeholders on the issues of children should cause the government to implement the various Acts and Conventions on children.
Despite the efforts of the government to have a place in Schools for children, there are still indications that children are still dropping out of school before they could complete their Junior High Education.
There is therefore the need for a platform to be created by the Ministry where children’s views could be incorporated into the policies. The Ghanaian street child needs to be protected to sustain the future of the nation.