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Opinions of Thursday, 9 July 2009

Columnist: Karikari, Isaac

Beggar-women With Children: Where Are The Fathers?

Isaac Karikari (bkkarikari@yahoo.com)

One of the common sights in our cities is seeing beggars at various points along the streets, especially at points where the build up of traffic is massive, apparently, so that they can solicit for alms from commuters.

People hold and express varied views about these beggars. The views range from who these beggars are to the reasons for which they beg for money. Some of the views generally, and often expressed include the view that these beggars are people suffering from abject poverty. They are very poor and have no one to depend on or look up to, they therefore resort to begging.

There are other views such as them being a pack of lazy bones exploiting the generosity and “good naturedness” of the public. There are also views that suggest that they, especially the young men and women, are mostly riff-ruffs and ragamuffins who rip people off with their pathetic and sick looks, and cock and bull stories in order to get money for their nefarious activities and addictions (generally drug addictions). One other view, superstitious in nature, is that some actually use the monies they take from the public for “juju”. By so doing they affect the fortunes of the donor as earnings and tips one would have received get transferred to them “spiritually”.

These are some views widely expressed about beggars. However, their veracity may be difficult to ascertain.

That notwithstanding there is one thing about beggars, notably the female beggars which I find very disturbing, and believe demands the immediate attention of the relevant government and non-governmental agencies, institutions and organisations. This is the sight of women and young ladies begging with children. I am not referring to the instances where children serve as aides to beggars, though that is also another source of worry. I am particularly referring to those cases or incidents where women (some of them being lactating mothers) having very little children, are found on the curbs and walkways begging for alms. It is one thing I find worrying and very disturbing considering the wellbeing of the children, not to mention the possible impact on their future development.

Doesn’t it constitute an incident of an abuse of their fundamental rights?

What is the impact on their livelihood and growth, generally?

One thing we may over look is the direct exposure to harmful effusions such as carbon monoxide from car exhaust fumes. What becomes of the health of the child(ren) then?

Aren’t there any negative implications on their integration into the larger society?

Doesn’t it result in some form of alienation from the larger society especially among their peers as they are likely to be branded and tagged negatively? Just like it has been with “Trokosi” (the situation where young girls are “traded off” as payment for a relation’s “sins” to a deity), it is possible for some cultural and traditional attributions to be made by way of explaining the incident of women begging with children. The question then would be whether cultural practices offer a justifiable basis for acts that adversely affect the development of children?

Thinking of these, so many other questions come up. I wonder if these women and young ladies are not only using these children as “tools” for raking in more money. It is obvious that, the sight of these children would move many including the scrooge. Thus in exploiting children they exploit the average commuter or pedestrian too.

The number one, and general reason often given for the high incidence of begging is the problem of poverty. However, is the daily “business” activity of begging enough to permanently break the cycle of poverty?

All over the world begging appears to be a rather easy but very rewarding profession. In a report released by the European Fundamental Rights Agency in 2007 on child beggars in Italy, it was noted that begging generates as much as €200 million per year.

There may not be any formal data on the amount of money generated in the “begging industry” in Ghana but it is generally believed that the beggars, especially “when luck smiles on them”, make a lot of money.

In this instance too, the question I put across is that, is the lucrativeness of this industry enough reason to expose little children to such risks, with the likelihood of their future been jeopardised?

Still some other questions do come to mind, the most significant being:

WHERE ARE THE FATHERS?

That should be of utmost concern to all.

We find the mothers begging but where are the men who fathered those children? Whatever the case may be-whether it is the women and their husbands trying to outsmart unsuspecting and “naive” members of the public by making it appear as though the mothers have been abandoned and left to cater for themselves and their children; or it is a genuine case of irresponsibility on the part of men who only think of fathering children and not caring for them? Something has to be done because the wellbeing of innocent children is at stake.

If it is the former then those involved have to be apprehended and sanctioned. People who use children in such a manner are just as guilty as those who traffick children, and those who force children into servitude. If on the other hand it is the latter, and thus a case or incident of some men behaving irresponsibly, then they have to be brought to book. Something has to be done, and it must be done real quick because the lives of innocent and vulnerable children are at risk. It is a clear instance of a violation of the Ghana Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560, an Act meant to ensure the wellbeing of the Ghanaian child), not only by the “perpetrators” but also the institutions that appear to have shirked their mandated duty of ensuring that the provisions of the Act are executed.

Addressing this issue is certainly an onerous task. I however don’t think any cost is too great to bear when the welfare of several children is at risk and the very future of this nation is threatened.

The Social Welfare Department, with the Peace and Love Orphanage incident earlier this year, proved that it is competent enough and capable of doing what it has been mandated to do (promoting the welfare of all, remarkably children) at least with the needed motivation or government directive. It is thus my hope, and I believe, that of well meaning individuals too, that the Government and the Department will show much alacrity in dealing with cases and issues bordering on the welfare of children.

It is also my hope that other agencies and institutions (both public and private) notably the NGOs, business organisations and religious bodies will exhibit a commitment towards the eradication of child abuse and all manner of injustices against children.