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Child streetism: a setback to national development

Monday, June 20, 2016 - 17:36

Most people in rural communities admire the idea of living in the city, little do they know about the challenges associated with an urban lifestyle.

Urban life is characterised by numerous challenges, one of which is the constant traffic jams, popularly called, “traffic”, that headlock cars on our roads.

Because of this “traffic”, some residents are forced to wake up as early as 4:00AM to beat traffic and make it to work on time. I am one of them.

In my quest to get to the office on time, I have resorted to patronising the train service that runs from Accra to Tema. For some time now, I have been a regular commuter of the railway transport system and have come to realise how fast and effective it is compared to other modes of transport such as road using commercial or private vehicles.

Using this transport system, my destination is the Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout (a suburb of Accra). At the Roundabout, I am privy to some of the societal cankers that Accra faces – most poignant being the issue of child streetism.

I notice children between the ages of 10-17 years, sometimes even younger, lying on the pavements opposite the Accra Shopping Mall, as well as on the newly constructed pedestrian walkway overhead at Spanner Junction, exposed and left at the mercy of whatever dangers the night holds.

Street children are among the most physically visible of all children, living and working on various street corners and public squares in our cities ranging from Aflao to Bawku. Ironically, they are also among the most 'invisible', considering that they are the most difficult groups to reach with provision of vital services such as education and healthcare, and thus - the hardest to protect.

The term 'street children' is problematic as it is often regarded as stigmatisation - with some people associating the word to a criminal lifestyle. Yet, many children living on the streets and lacking a form of identity have embraced the term, considering that it offers them a sense of identity and belonging.

Once on the street, aside being exposed to the mercy of the weather, they are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, a life far removed from the childhood envisioned in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that children are entitled to special care and assistance. Primarily, the family system, especially the nuclear family, is recognised as the fundamental group in society and the natural environment that ensures the growth and well-being of all its members, particularly children. It is unbelievable then that majority of street children are not orphans.

Although some of the children who have made the streets their home have run away from family members and caregivers, often to flee psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse, most are still in contact with their family members and work on the streets to augment the household income.

As a development worker, I am always moved when I see these children, who I regard as my younger brothers and sisters, making their living on the streets. Unable to remain aloof and unaffected by their predicament, I offer them money or food, other times too I am simply a listening ear, striking up conversation and interacting with them.

It is amazing the stories they tell and the experiences they share, however I have noticed common themes such as broken homes, irresponsible parents, incest and sexual abuse and many others with the strongest being poverty.

Forced by these circumstances to run away from the one place they should feel safest- their homes, their hope of a brighter life coupled with economic and academic opportunities are soon dashed and they eventually resort to engaging in menial jobs such as cleaning of car windscreens, calling out passengers for commercial drivers, shoe shining (cobbler), selling “pure water” (sachet water) and begging in traffic for money.

Four years ago, the Social Welfare Department of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, then known as the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, released findings in a report titled, “Census on Street Children in the Greater Accra Region, Ghana”. The report estimated that about 61,492 children were growing up on streets in Accra as at 2011.

The findings also revealed an additional 24,000 recorded street children within a space of just one year in 2012.

Since these findings were released, Ghana’s population has continued to increase and the gap between the rich and poor has widened – I believe the exact number of street children in Ghana as at now is impossible to quantify - likely to be a figure running into tens of thousands, maybe even higher.

The phenomena isn’t particular to Ghana.

In Senegal, UNICEF estimates over 50,000 children are sleeping on the streets in the capital, Dakar, and over 100,000 can be found in other cities in the country.

Globally, the Consortium for Street Children estimates over 100 million children are living their lives on urban streets across the world.

Francis Xavier Kojo Sosu, a distinguished lawyer, spent his childhood looking for a way to make ends meet. Born into a family living in poverty, he engaged in money-making activities and made the streets his home. Currently, Francis Sosu is one of Ghana’s finest and most successful human rights lawyers. Inspiring story, yes, but it will be wrong to assume that children living on the streets will have the same opportunities to enable them break the cycle of poverty he had.

This is where I believe we all have a part to play if we want to see our future assets well positioned for the development of our country.

As a nation, we need to critically consider and recognise all human rights laws starting with those that address the needs of children. The rest, I believe, will fall in place once we get this right.

Street children do not have a voice to claim for themselves the rights they deserve and although a number of organisations ranging from local to international, have interest in curbing child streetism, advocating for their rights and removal from the streets, I think much remains to be done if we really mean our words.

Hundreds of children still exodus to the streets of Accra and other cities in the country each year. Even more heart-breaking, some die out of the “survival of the fittest” syndrome they face.

One day, I witnessed a Patrol Team chasing and “arresting” these children who have made the Tetteh Quashie Circle in Accra their home, possibly to rehabilitate them into orphanages and social centres.

I recognise and congratulate the efforts of the Social Welfare unit but without the adequate structures and infrastructure to house street children, they will end up on the streets again. 

I believe that government and private stakeholders need to enforce and strengthen their collaborative efforts to ensure the streets can no longer be called home to thousands of children who are homeless and marginalised by investing in policy implementation and provision of efficient infrastructure.

File 34460Foster Adase-Adjei, Fundraising & Marketing Officer, ActionAid Ghana

By: Foster Adase-Adjei

Fundraising & Marketing Officer,

ActionAid Ghana