Feature Article of Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Columnist: Naab, Francis Zana

Kayayo In Perspective- A Problematic Problem

In the field of socio-economic development, internal migration and in particular, rural-urban migration has generally been regarded with considerable pessimism. Starting in the late 1960s, rural-urban migration attracted substantial attention from both policy makers and academic researchers. Much of this attention was negative and alarmist and contributed to perceptions of migrants from rural areas flooding into the major cities, swelling the ranks of the unemployed, putting stress on urban services and infrastructure, and contributing to social unrest and civil disorder (Deshingkar and Grimm, 2005). This view was further bolstered by the argument that migration would deplete the rural economy of its more skilled and innovative individuals, thus stunting the progress of the growth and poverty reduction that was expected to be achieved via technical change in small-farm agriculture.A more disturbing element of this migration in Ghana is the flooding of the major cities with young teenage girls from the rural areas who pose as head porters.

Walking down the streets of the major cities in Ghana, most especially Kumasi and Accra, one would be amazed at the number of young girls posing as porters popularly known as kayayo. Most of these young girls who mostly migrate from the Northern part of Ghana are within the age range of 9-28 years. What is more shocking is the very deplorable state that these deprived and under privileged young girls live as well as their day-to-day ordeals. Without a place to stay, one would usually find them on verandas, kiosks and sheds erected by them or permitted to stay in such places by the owners with a caveat to always sweep and tidy the place in the morning. A more disturbing fact is that, a number of these girls get raped each day because of the nature of their dwelling places. While others seek refuge from some security men at night others form alliance with male counterparts for protection who apparently have inherent right to have sexual intercourse with them at any time.

Kayayo has become popular among the northern young girls to the extent that it is becoming a trade. It is not entirely new to the most populous cities in Ghana and yet little has been done to salvage this canker. What beats the mind of people like me is “why these young girls leave their native homes to do some of these bizarre jobs with unfavourable working conditions?” I recall a recent discussion with a taxi driver, where he pointed out the fact that most people in the three Northern regions, the source of majority of thesekayayo girls, are polygamous hence have large families. Most of these families rely on their agricultural produce which is dependent on the vagaries of the weather for food and also engage in petty trade to meet other pressing needs like the payment of school fees, health bills among many others. The drive to search for alternative sources of livelihood makes most of these young girls migrate south to engage in kayayo. While some decide to go on their own volition, others too are forced to go by their parents most especially their mothers who upon seeing a neighbour’s kayayo daughter come back at Christmas with goodies to share to the old women back home.

Hitherto, most parents in the bid to look for alternative means of livelihood for themselves and their teenage daughters give them out for marriage at an early age. With society frowning on this teenage marriage practice, the trend has gradually shifted to forcing these teenage girls intokayayo. It is also evident that some of these kayayo girls run away from their native homes because they had been betrothed and given off into early marriage. While others blame the cause of this increasingly great trek on the families (the basic unit of society) of these migrants, others also dwell on the poverty levels of the people in the three northern regions. It is a generally upheld view that the three northern regions house some of the most deprived and poverty stricken areas in Ghana. This drives a lot of the youth to look elsewhere for alternative livelihood opportunities thus, their migration to the south in search for these very unreliable livelihood opportunities. Due to the undesirable poverty levels, some youngsters after completing JHS and SHSmigrate to the big cities in a bid to work and finance their education. Majority of these people end up being the head porters in and around the CBDs of our cities.

It is a fact that in many countries, women who migrate, whether within or across borders live and work in challenging, frequently exploitative circumstances;circumstances that are sometimes made even more difficult by the official stance taken by authorities towards their migration. In Ghana, rising female migration from rural communities in the north of the country has been viewed in a largely negative light and the policy response has been to discourage women in these communities from migrating. However, can this alone be the only panacea to discouraging the existence of kayayo in our major cities? A lot depends on the government and civil society groups to chart a new path.

The under developed North needs to be given a face lift in order to create more avenues not only for teenage girls, but their male counterparts as well. Bridging the North-South gap in terms of development should be the primus emptorpares. The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) is a bold step being taken by the government of Ghana to bridge this gap.

Further, agriculture, the main means of sustenance in the North needs to be improved. Research has proven that some teenage girls migrate to the big cities because of the seasonal unemployment they face during the lean season. Irrigation agriculture should be a prime focus of policy makers in order to ensure all year cultivation. This in essence would go a long way to increase agricultural productivity as well as curb the seasonal unemployment both of which are push factors of teenage migration in the North.

Besides, there are countless NGOs in the North to the extent that Tamale, the Northern Regional Capital, has been dubbed the NGO hub of the country. Yet the issue of kayayogirls from the North continues to be on the increase. Is it that none of these NGOs have identified the issue of Kayayo as a thematic area or their efforts are just not making any head way? What about the aspect of women empowerment which is always dominant in most of their mission statements areas? It is high time efforts are channeled towards addressing this menace and it involves pragmatic steps by all NGOs to partner with decentralized government institutions to address this canker that is eating deep into the fabric of our country.

Alternative livelihood creation should be the focus of government and NGOs either than the over reliance on subsistence farming. More job avenues can be created in the North that will engage the services of the youth. This can be done by the establishment of factories, plantations, etc that will employ local labour. A school of thought is of the opinion that, dormitories should be built in the major cities as homes for these kayayo girls. This ultimately is going to increase the menace which successive governments have always tried to curb. Besides, it would also lead to a mass migration, not only from the North but other deprived areas in the country. Governments, NGOs, policy makers, and social commentators would therefore have to channel their efforts to addressing the socio-economic push factors rather than proposing measures that will fuel kayayo.

In Ghana and in many other African countries, internal migration, and in particular, rural-urban migration is generally regarded as an undesirable social phenomenon that needs to be controlled. In Ghana, the migration of women from the north of the country to engage in kayayoin particular is seen in a mostly negative light, not only by the general populace, but also by government officials and by non-governmental organizations. Research reveals that the important contributions that female migrants can make to the household and to the welfare of children requires us to rethink these views and reinforce the case for implementing policies and programs that expand the capabilities and choices of women in northern Ghana; not only those who stay, but also those who migrate.

Name: Francis Zana Naab
Email. - fznaab@hotmail.com
Tel. +233(0)249353918