The Streets: Our Newfound Home
Somewhere in the streets of Accra, a teenage girl has been impregnated while plying her trade; a young boy is in custody for robbery and a young mother has resorted to the street to fend for her newborn child.
The exact event will pass entirely unnoticed yet the repercussions would linger around for many years to come. The stories of these young men and women are heartbreaking and horrifying.
“…we came here because no place would take us after our momma died. They all said go away, come back when you’re older, when you know better when you’ve learned. No one wants to teach how to be older or know better…”
“On the street, there is no tomorrow. There is only here and now and nothing else. And yesterday was just another day we’re trying to forget”.
These are excerpts from street children somewhere in Ghana, presumably, Accra or Kumasi. What was their crime that they should be left on the street? What happens to the dreams they once shared?
As the world commemorates International Day for street children with focus on keeping street connected children safe, we cannot gross over the plight of these children, their right to access basic social services and the need to safeguard their human dignity.
Children they say are the backbone and the future leaders of every nation. For this reason, any nation which aims to secure the future must first pay close attention to the development of its children.
However, providing opportunities for proper growth and child development has over the years been challenging to say the least; with the ever-growing street children begging for alms, attempting to clean vehicular windscreens in moving traffic at the peril of their lives.
Streetism though ubiquitous is more pronounced in Ghana’s big towns and cities: Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi. Many children have made the street their home for a variety of reasons. While some studies found that few children from relatively well-to-do families move to the urban streets mainly for adventures and peer influence, others were found to migrate to the streets for the same economic reasons as other street children in different parts of the world.
It’s instructive to note that many street children end up on the street due to the death of parents, sexual abuse, violence in homes, neglect, separation or divorce of parents. The street, therefore, provides hope and a second chance at life.
Children on the street vs children of the street
Thus, there are two categories of street children namely: children on the street and children of the street. While the former (i.e. children on the street) have homes and return to the streets in the morning, the latter (i.e. children of the street) however are homeless—without any appropriate shelter and/or parental guidance.
Of course, considering the Ghanaian culture of close kinship ties and family relations, it is doubtful to conceive that street children in our cities are homeless; perhaps those of non-Ghanaian origin.
The average household in Ghana is made of about three to four siblings including the parents sharing a room or two. However, in some households, a lot more people share a single room.
A large number of children in a household creates competition for the limited resources rendering others to the street. This could be more pronounced given the many job losses due to the post-economic effect of the pandemic, and the global economic meltdown.
More so, these street children are at a higher risk of contracting communicable diseases due to the constant interaction with strangers who could be carriers of these diseases.
Influx of foreigners
It is without a doubt that non-Ghanaian street children have increased on our streets. These street children unlike their Ghanaian counterparts are drawn to the street by their parents to beg for alms. Due to the perceived lucrative nature and success stories of their fellow countrymen and women who ply this trade, many have been drawn to ply this trade using their children to solicit money from pedestrians and motorists.
Traffic stops provide an opportune time to demand money. A stroll through the principal streets of Accra shows that many of these foreign street children have mastered the act of begging to the extent of eliciting emotions and sympathy from the public as well as harassing people should they refuse to yield to their demands.
Interestingly, our laws per the Beggars and Destitutes Act, 1969; 2(1) makes begging an offence and offenders could be arrested even without a warrant and a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months and/or a fine not exceeding one hundred and fifty penalty units.
A deterrent as this may be, it appears that as a people, we have turned a blind eye while many continue to flout the law with impunity. Before you become sentimental about the legal view expressed, let me also add that I am not oblivious of the difficulty in many homes, and the reasons for engaging in such an act.
However, the implications are dire considering the threats of terrorism and pandemics, and the level of danger these children are exposed to on daily basis.
Survival Instinct: A safer street?
As the world commemorates street children today, I strongly make the argument that our individual neglect of street children and their survival instincts do not make our street any safer. Street children resort to several means of surviving aside from begging for alms in the daytime. It is also common knowledge and the human instinct to resort to violence in the face of severe starvation in an attempt to survive.
It is, therefore, not surprising that studies (see e.g. Asante & Nefale, 2021; Olaniran & Perumal, 2021) show that street children are found to engage in social vices such as armed robbery, pickpocketing, prostitution, fraud etc. to survive. Life on the street is brutal and unforgiving of one’s age, gender or religion.
As a result, an estimated 34 per cent of young girls have been victims of rape and defilements. How could these young mothers be able to raise and inculcate discipline and good morals into their children? Your guess is as good as mine.
This challenge not only presents a social problem but a security threat to all of us. Nevertheless, the Free Senior High School policy designed to put school children back in the classroom initiated by this government undoubtedly has contributed to decongesting our streets of young boys and girls who hustle to support their parents and pay their school fees.
I commend the efforts of His Excellency for initiating the project dubbed “Operation Get off the Street for a Better Life” designed to get over 300,000 children off the street through the LEAP intervention and the Ghana Safety Net Project. This speaks to the resilience of the current administration to alleviate the suffering of our young ones on the streets.
However, yielding adequate results for those on our streets would also require our efforts and little contribution to support government’s intervention.