Scrap vagrancy laws – Advocates appeal

Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, Executive Director, Crime Check Foundation

With the increasing number of inmates in Ghana’s prisons, crime prevention organization Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to advocate the annulment of vagrancy laws.

The project dubbed “decriminalizing vagrancy laws advocacy project” seeks to decriminalize poverty.

A vagrant is a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging or hawking on the streets.

Oftentimes, district assemblies pass bylaws like fines which these vagrants are unable to pay and eventually end up in prison.

In an exclusive interview with theghanareport.com, the Executive Director of CCF said the project is imperative because of the draconian district assemblies’ bylaws which appear to criminalize poverty.

“The project has come about because of the draconian District Assemblies bylaws, which appear to have sent poor people into prison and continue to oppress the poor,” he added.

Colonial masters used draconian laws to police spaces.

“So, much as the streets must be kept clean and people must follow the laid down rules and regulations, the assemblies also need to live up to their mandate and not punish poor people for their blunders,” Mr. Oppong Kwarteng noted.

He explained that most of the bylaws mandate assemblies to provide social amenities that will make life worth living for poor people, but they fail to provide them.

“It is increasingly becoming a human right issue because of the economic condition of poor people, these are petty offenders who have not committed any criminal act, but because of their inability to pay these fines, they end up in jail,” he lamented.

Stressing on the need to amend these bylaws, Mr. Kwarteng argued that the “bylaws have an ironic frame as it puts poor people in a complicated situation. For instance, it is the responsibility of the district assembly to provide bins so that residents will pay for the services of refuse pickers. When it takes a long time for the assembly to pick up the bins, these poor people have no choice but to throw rubbish anywhere, which also goes against the law.

Such people are fined and imprisoned if they are unable to pay.

The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), an umbrella body for lawyers on the continent, took the criminalization of poverty to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In a ruling on December 4, 2020, the court said it was illegal to imprison vagrants and recommended an alternative sentencing regime that will not violate the rights of such people.

Since Ghana is a signatory to the treaty, CCF and OSIWA have vowed to engage parliament and other stakeholders to enforce the ruling.

Project Duration

The one-year project will be rolled out in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions; Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central.

“We have begun with the mapping, and we are engaging with the various district assemblies in the selected regions and the leadership of vagrants”.

The project will sensitize 1200 vagrants about their rights and responsibilities to prevent any misunderstandings with the assemblies.

“In order not to seem as we are inciting vagrants against the district assemblies and the central government, we will also educate them about their duties as patriotic citizens,” he added.

Monitoring and Evaluation

To monitor the progress and effectiveness of the project, a contact center will be created after the sensitization to address concerns of vagrants at the partnering organization, Crime Check Foundation.

According to Mr. Kwarteng, the police will also be engaged to monitor the progress of the project.

The project will run from May 2021 to May 2022.

It will be officially launched on Friday, May 28, 2021, at Accra’s International Press Center.

 

 

 

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