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Opinions of Saturday, 19 July 2008

Columnist: Akomea, Bill Graham Osei

Who cares about these children on the streets?

The most important right of a child is 'to be a child', to have adults take responsibility for him until he can reasonably take care of himself. Children are to look forward to their parents for the supply of their basic necessities of life. Hence, under both the Childrens Right and the Convention on the Right of the Child, parents have the responsibility for the supply to their wards the basic necessities of life. The opposite however prevails in Ghana. Our streets are filled with children engaged in all sorts of trade. These children can be categorized into two: the 'ordinary ' Ghanaian street child who lives and work on the street and the urban poor child, who survives daily on the street but still has some family ties.

Where they are from

Most of these children migrated from the rural areas especially the northern part of Ghana. They lack almost all basic needs of life: shelter, education, health care, adequate nutrition, economic independence and personal safety. Majority of them are deprived of education. In 2003 the Ghana Statistical Service and the ILO International Program to Eliminate Child Labor (ILO/IPEC) surveyed 2,314 street children throughout the country, most of whom lived in the urban areas of the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions and had migrated from northern rural areas. Of those surveyed, 45.7 percent had never attended school, 98.1 percent were engaged in economic activity within the last 12 months. Despondently, majority of them are below age fourteen.

Work they engage in

The Ghana Statistical Service estimated that approximately 27.2 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years in Ghana were working in 2001.These children work as cart pushers, bar-keepers, head porters, hawkers, shoe shine boys just to mention but a few. . Ignored by authorities and the public, they are often the target for exploitation, threats and violence. But the question is: where are their parents? Who cares about them? Should we pretend not to see it as a problem or accept it to be normal and live with it?

Causes

Poverty is the major cause of the increasing number of street children. Most of these children are from poor homes. Their parents are unable to provide for the household. They are therefore forced to contribute to family income through a wide range of commercial activities.

Fostering and informal adoption of children is another cause. Majority of these adopted children who are girls end up as maids and are made to work around the clock. They have little or no time to play or interact with other children. They are denied education and are subjected to hunger, even though in most cases these young girls prepare the meal. Most children who are abused suffer emotional and psychological trauma. They end up as delinquents in the streets of the major cities of the country.

Another cause is the nature of education in the rural areas. Education in the rural areas is not attractive. In some villages there are no school buildings. Where there are too, they are in bad condition. There are also few or no teachers. Parents are not motivated to send their wards to school. These children in their quest to seek greener pastures and get out of daily hunger, run to the urban areas.

It will be an understatement to say that these children are suffering. At night, they sleep in kiosks and in front of stores exposing them to all kinds of diseases and thieves. Vehicles knock some down. They are easily lured into robbery, drug peddling, child prostitution and other vices. The girls are compelled to satisfy the sexual desires of their male counterparts to get food and for protection. Â Recommendations It is the responsibility of all to help save this situation. Not only are their lives at risk but ours too. I therefore submit the following recommendations:

Education should be truly free and compulsory. Thanks to the government, education is free and compulsory. I however call upon implementers of the FCUBE and school feeding programs to perform their work with diligence. All invisible fees (e.g. hidden costs such as text books and school uniforms and other charges) should be eliminated. This will make education not only affordable but attractive.

Also, Incentives should be provided to encourage teachers to work in rural areas so as to minimize the risk of children (non-schooling children/ school drop-outs) taking to street life in urban areas. There should be more training on child rights issues for teachers, and inclusion of child rights education in the curriculum.

Perpetrators of child trafficking should put a stop to it. Our laws on child trafficking and other vices against children should be strictly enforced.

Parents especially those in rural areas should be continually advised to give birth to the number of children they can well cater for. They should not use the government policy of free health care for mothers delivering as a yard stick to give birth to many children. For the policy does not include free provision of the child's basic needs of life.

There is the need for more integrated research on new emerging issues on the situation of Street children. More Philanthropists and Non-governmental Organizations should also come and aid.

Children are a potential human resource and therefore if any nation is to have continuity and progress, there is the need to preserve the future generation.

By: Bill Graham Osei Akomea
oseibill@yahoo.co.uk
Faculty of Law, KNUST. The writer is also the assistant editor for an international magazine, 'The Critique'