They lie in open spaces. They have no shelter to hide from the rain and sun and in worst cases; they are exposed to thieves and all forms of social vices. This is the predicament of thousands of homeless children across the country.
Ghana was expected to take stringent measures to rid children off the streets after ratifying the United Convention on Children Rights in February 1990, but the country is still struggling to realize that dream.
In 2015, there were about 60,000 children on the streets, according to the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, but the figures could be higher since statistical data on the numbers are almost non-existent.
Though the country has devised a number of social protection interventions and strategies including the establishment of community child protection teams, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), the School Feeding Programme, the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) among others, aimed at permanently tackling this challenge, there are still thousands of children on the streets.
Eight -year old Celestine and her four year old brother, are typical examples of the many children who comb the streets of Accra daily to make ends meet. By 9:00am Celestine, and her two brothers and parents, start begging for alms till evening at Adabraka. And when the day is over, they return to their place of abode – an open space in Accra to lay their heads.
Celestine and her family were living in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region, until they decided to relocate to Accra. They have been begging for alms on the streets for three months now.
Sharing her challenges, Celestine said it has never been an exciting experience begging for alms especially on days when the sun or rain decides to be unfriendly.
She however indicated that, she has been forced to endure the bitter experience because both parents are blind and cannot find a stable job to cater for the family.
“Begging for alms was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in school, but I had to do this to support my parents.I hope I will find myself in school one-day,” she said.
According to her, there are days that they get enough to buy their basic needs and other days they get nothing- not even money to buy food.
Her six -year old brother, Isaac, who equally finds the whole routine of begging for alms daunting and depressing, explained that he thought of “running away from the family sometime, to find a safe haven, but could not just muster the courage to do so.”
Celestine’s 24 -year old mother, and 40- year- old father, Felicia and Isaac, are both blind, but they do not leave the task of begging to the children.
Felicia in an interview with Citi News explained that she relocated to Accra with her family because she could not bear the shame and mockery associated with begging for alms in her hometown – Bolgatanga.
“There are times I feel like returning to Bolga, but I know I won’t get anything there. It is not easy here, but at least I get something small to fend for myself and the children so I have to stay,” she added.
15- year old Janet, who was in school in Paga in the Northern Region, was on the other hand forced to migrate to Accra because her parents could no longer pay for her fees.
Janet revealed that she has been exposed to thieves and rapists on several occasions while sleeping in the open at Adabraka .
According to her, some of her colleagues who were impregnated by these thieves and rapists have left Accra for their hometown.
“I want to go back to school, but my parents do not have enough so I have been forced to work here. We are most of the times exposed to thieves and rapists but we have to cope just like that. Some of my colleagues left after they were impregnated by these men.”
She expressed hope of returning to school after gaining enough funds to cater for her education.
Street children can be grouped under three main categories and these are :
- Children on the streets: These are children with a sense of belonging who sometimes leave home to engage in all forms of activities to make ends meet. They are mostly the bread winners since their families depend on them for survival.
- Children of the streets : These are children who actually live on the streets as a result of migration, poverty or any of the above mentioned factors. They are exposed to all forms of violence.
- Abandoned Children: This category constitutes children who have been abandoned by their parents and are therefore forced to fend for themselves.
The underlying causes for the growing number of street kids, have largely been attributed to poverty, peer pressure, migration for socio economic reasons and truancy. But there are also other factors such as desire for money, irresponsibility on the part of parents, and misconceptions about city life.
While some of these street children beg for alms on the street, others have resorted to prostitution and armed robbery. Studies have shown that both vices are probably on the ascendancy because identity is hidden and the activities are mostly carried out secretly hence data on the subject is scarce.
From 2003 to 2006, government introduced the poverty reduction programme in collaboration with the World Bank, which saw about 6,000 children taken off the streets and offered skills training. Though the Assemblies were expected to follow up and ensure that the programme continues, they woefully failed.
The Director at the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, Mr. Emmanuel Otoo, who made this revelation, said the various Assemblies were not sanctioned despite failing to deliver on their mandate. These challenges, he believes, are hindering government’s efforts at dealing with the problem.
Proffering viable remedies to rectify the challenge, Mr. Otoo, while emphasizing the need for the assemblies to be held accountable, also proposed what will largely be described as radical measures including birth control measures and prosecution of irresponsible parents to address the problem.
“We have to start prosecuting parents to deal with the problem. Some of the parents who are poor also need their capacities to be built so they can get money to take care of their children.”
He believes these policies combined with efforts from various stakeholders will drastically reduce streetism.
“This problem needs a huge amount of money to deal with it. We have to collaborate with key stakeholders to give these children skills training and take them back to school.”