It was late at night, probably a little past midnight. They were talking in hushed tones. Who were those talking? Oh, it’s her parents. But why is her mother arguing with her father? Why would they have a conversation at this time of the night? This has never happened before! This realization forced Isha to eavesdrop on the conversation they were having. She carefully tiptoed to the door.
“Baba please don’t give my only daughter away in marriage. She is too young!” Susan cried. But her husband was adamant. “Suzy, Isha is not a child. She is woman. And besides, Alhaji is not too old. He is just 56. If she stays with you in this house, will you give her money to further her education? Alhaji has promised to do that when he marries her. Look woman, this conversation is over. And wait oh, when did you start talking back at me? We are not talking about this anymore. Get some sleep because tomorrow is your daughter’s wedding day.”
After the noise ended in the room; the noise begun in Isha’s head. So this is what her father was trying to do. No wonder she has been sent to Alhaji’s house on several unnecessary errands. After careful thought she knew exactly what to do. If her father really wanted to marry then he would have to marry that old man himself. She packed a few essentials into a bag and quietly opened the door. As soon as she stepped out, without looking back, she run as fast as her feet could carry her. As soon as she got to the junction, she saw an approaching bus. The mate shouted Accra! Accra! Yes. She would join that bus. She heard a lot of wonderful things happened in Accra. Without thinking twice, she joined it.
Isha has become one of the children who live on the streets of Accra. She has become a street child.
In order to understand the issue of streetism, we need to first establish and understand the key elements. Firstly, a child is a boy or girl below 18 years (UNICEF CRC, Article 1). The term “street children” is used for those children for whom the street is a reference point and has a central role in their lives. The phenomenon of street children is becoming a global one, and street children are now often part of the urban scene in African countries. Within Ghana it is estimated that there are around 90 000 street children in the Greater Accra region alone (Department of Social Welfare, 2016, page 1).
In my opinion the issue of streetism in Ghana can be narrowed down to poverty. Most of these children come from homes that have financial difficulties. Parents have irregular sources of income but have to support large families. With the large number of children depending on just the parents for survival, the older ones are mostly left unattended to while all the attention is given to the younger ones. This gives the older children the edge to move out of their homes and fend for themselves.
Financial constraint can also force young girls into marriage. As is the case with the story of Isha, young girls are forced to marry men who are three times their age, with the goal of reducing the financial burden on the family. They are usually told the lie that their soon-to-be husbands are going to cater for their education, which rarely happens. Girls who feel they need to make more of their lives than just getting married may decide to flee from home to seek refuge elsewhere. Unfortunately they have no other place to go than the streets.
Another major factor is irresponsible parenting. A lot of people have children indiscriminately knowing fully well that they do not have the financial capacity to cater for them. In the past having a lot of children was a fashionable trend and beneficial to the family because the children served as helping hands on the family farm. It was easier to cater for the children because food came from the farm. Parents in the past also had no problems with educating their children, because schools were seen as unnecessary. With times and priorities changing, farm work and sedentary living is not enough to fully equip people to fit into the world. Nowadays having a lot of children is rather a burden onto the parents. When these children are brought up without much care and attention, they end up finding solace in being on the streets; away from home.
In Ghana, a large number of street children can be found in Central Accra, the Kwame Nkrumah circle, Kumasi, Tamale, and other major centres. One can see children begging on the streets and cleaning wind screens of vehicles for money. They are also seen picking pockets and snatching purses and bags. Those who are business-minded are seen selling sweets, car dusters, sachet and bottled water, and airtime at traffic signals. The girls from the northern parts of the country often become “kayayes”, carrying the loads of shoppers who buy too much to carry it by themselves. Long working hours, a lack of food and shelter, sexual abuse, early pregnancy and drug abuse are commong problems facing these kids. There is also an increased crime rate, which in turn has a negative impact on the community.
In order to curb this problem, I think we need to tackle it from the root. To begin with, I think the government should find out what the rural area lacks and invest into it. If a community is into farming and yet lacks the equipments to facilitate this, the government should provide such equipment. This will solve the root problem of poverty and keep the youth occupied, so they don’t feel the need to migrate.
Vocational skills training, such as tie and die making or hairdressing, should be supported. If young people have skills that can fetch them an income, they will not have any reason to leave their jobs behind and move to the city. One the part of the parents, they should be educated on streetism, its effects on the children and the society as a whole. They should be enlightened on how to cater for and take responsibility for their wards.
NGOs that specialize in catering for street children should be supported financially by the government, in order to be well equipped to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate these children. If nothing is done to stem the tide of the phenomenon of discarded youth throughout the country, then in a few years this matter will be out of control and solving it will be close to impossible. Let’s act now, look forward and support Street Children Empowerment Foundation (SCEF) in their work with street children!
Department of Social Welfare 2011: Census on Street Children in the Greater Accra Region. Accra, Ghana. Accessed on 16.08.2016 via: http://www.chance-for-children.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/census_street_childern_in_accra.pdf
UNICEF 1990: Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accessed on 16.08.2016 via: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx