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Opinions of Thursday, 6 March 2014

Columnist: Ayamga, Elizabeth Alampae

Save these babies

The sight of disease-ridden beggars in the streets is giving the town a bad name, and the tourists are starting to stay away. If the Director of Public Health and Hygiene can get rid of them he will have done a great service to the health and economy of the nation - not to mention his own promotion prospects (culled from The Beggars Strike). The first time I saw the title of this book “The Beggars Strike” as a Junior High School student, I laughed and asked myself, “why on earth beggars could go on strike”. In my eagerness to find out, I spent less than 24 hours to read this book. To my amazement, I found out that this could be real but only in an Islamic setting where alms giving is one of the five pillars of Islam and the rich need the beggars to fulfill their part of this doctrine. Though begging is allowed in many countries, it is acknowledged that it is a social menace.
We all know how the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has on many occasions struggled to get rid of beggars on the streets of Accra. But it seems all these attempts have become a nine day wonder with the beggars coming back in the next few days after such “swoop” activities. It is now normal for beggars to see you on the streets of Accra or in traffic and harass you to for money.
However, a worrying trend I have noticed is that the beggars have now adopted a new method of begging by carrying babies with them at odd hours when the babies should have been sleeping or otherwise. There are many instances where I met even men carrying babies to beg for money. I want to believe the logic is that people will have sympathy on the babies and give them money.
On my way to work one early morning, I was in a commercial trotro when the traffic light stopped us at the Opiebia (Airport) traffic light. There I saw a lady with two babies (less than 2 month and twins I guess) on the pavement. The lady, whom I later realized is suffering from cerebromeningitis, left the children on the pavement and moved from one vehicle to the other begging for money. For three consecutive days and on several occasions, I tried calling the Department of Social Welfare to come to the aid of these babies but none of my calls were picked. God being so good this story was carried out on News 360 on TV3 where I was hoping those in authority will hear the predicaments of these babies and take them off the streets and in the scorching sun, but it seems nothing was done about it. The mother and children rather relocated to Kaneshie to beg.
In my own analysis, I think there are four main dimensions to this story that need to be looked at critically. Firstly, there is “A Young Woman” involved. Girls and young women make up more than half of the youth population in Ghana. They are unique and distinctive individuals with rights and responsibilities similar to those of boys and young men. But they face more difficulties in accessing education, healthcare and employment compared to their male counterparts. They also face many challenges which prevent them from fully enjoying their human rights and other fundamental freedoms. Without gender parity in these and other areas of our development process, our national development goals will not be achieved.

Secondly, we have the issue of disability to look at. The lady is suffering from cerebrolmeningitis. On the streets of Ghana, not less than fifty percent of all beggars have some form of disability. Does that therefore suggest being physically challenged in Ghana means you cannot do any work apart from begging to earn a living? The answer is a big NO. On one of KSM’s TGIF show on Metro TV, we witnessed a lady who is suffering from cerebralmengitis but is currently a Software Developer, an enviable profession that any abled person will love to become. This clearly shows that this young woman could have been doing something for herself to earn a living if she was given the necessary support needed.

Thirdly, there are babies whose lives are at risk. If begging on the streets of Ghana is now normal, should we allow these children to be exposed to such dangers? Talk about the health risks that these babies are exposed to; the dust, the heat, the scorching sun, chemicals from vehicles, the noise etc. If these babies are left on the street, chances are that they are not going to have access to quality education when we all know that the right to education is one that all children and youth in Ghana must be able to access. Consequently, we might end up developing social deviants rather than well-meaning youth who will work towards building a better Ghana. Not all young people are delinquent. But we acknowledge that many young people are criminally active, committing less serious offences rather than violent crime. There is seldom one simple reason for the increased tendency towards criminal behaviour. However, social and economic disparities, as well as the inability to fully integrate youth and children into society increase the likelihood of criminal behaviour. Reduction in youth delinquency is key to reducing the overall crime rate in our society.

And lastly there is the problem of unemployment and poverty. The poor woman chose to beg in order to feed herself and her babies because she has no job. One cannot deny the fact that even with the considerable growth in the Ghanaian economy and the improvements in standards of living in recent years, poverty still plagues the lives of many young people in the country. But begging on the streets with the babies should not be an option because begging in itself is more of a social menace in terms of keeping the city clean and healthy to attract tourist.

These four dimensions discussed above are among other issues under the thematic areas identified and Call-to-Action discussed by the Youth Manifesto Coalition in The Youth Manifesto to help curb some of these problems. These thematic areas include Unemployment, Poverty Reduction, Girls and Young Women, Disabled and Juvenile Delinquency.
From my analysis above, it is so clear that the actors in this story are the vulnerable, neglected and discriminated in society and they fall under at least one of these thematic areas in the Youth Manifesto.
Part II of the Youth Manifesto (Call-to-Action) highlights key thematic issues under three broad clusters that reflect the challenges youth encounter. The content of each cluster moves from examining the concept of each priority area and how it is experienced by youth, to actions that can enhance the enjoyment of rights, opportunities, and the quality of life of young men and women. This format was chosen because it would have the most practical resonance with policymakers. The actions recommended in the Youth Manifesto are directed towards all stakeholders in youth development, including government, civil society, the private sector, United Nations agencies, donors and the international community, young people themselves, among others. Thus it is important for all stakeholders to recognise that investing in youth calls for cooperation, institutional support and vital partnerships across society and the different spheres of governance.