On the sidewalks of Nima, Mamobi and Madina, all in Accra and other predominantly Muslim communities around the country, one is sure to find women lined up with calabashes and other forms of small containers in front of them seeking for alms.
Most of these women are almost always with pairs of twins, usually between one and five years.
In an interview with The Mirror, the beggars, most of whom hail from the Northern part of the country, revealed that begging with twins has significant cultural underpinnings. They said they begged to allay calamities that might befall the twins.
One of the beggars, Lami, lives at Awoshie but comes to Nima with her twin boys every morning to beg. According to her, she begs because the spirits of the boys love begging.
“Alhassan and Husseini are always falling sick. As soon as Husseini gets better, Alhassan becomes ill. That was the cycle until an elderly woman in Mamprugu in the Northern Region where we lived told us that the twins wanted to beg for alms,” Lami explained.
She, therefore, relocated to Accra, a more suitable place to beg, and she says. “Ever since we started begging, Alhassan and Husseini have not been sick for even once except for minor colds and teething problems,” she added.
Mma Amina is another beggar who came down south to beg with her twins not because there was anything wrong with them but because she wanted to prevent any misfortune from befalling them.
“I believe twins love receiving alms and that something bad may befall them if we don’t do it for them,” Mma Amina stated.
“Sometimes, twins grow up to three years and are not able to talk or walk but recover the moment their mothers take to begging. I am here because I don’t want my children to go through such problems before I start begging.”
Whereas some beg based on cultural beliefs, others do so purely out of economic hardship.
Though Fati, another beggar, said the elderly in her village advised that the twins begged to ward off evil or any misfortune, her primary reason for begging was because she found herself stranded in Accra.
“My sister who lives in Accra called me to come from Tamale to help her with her business but I lost my phone on my way to Accra hence, I couldn’t reach her.
“With my twins and no money to fend for them and myself, I decided to beg for alms with them as there is no one to take care of them where I live,” Fati narrated.
Unlike Fati who wants to stop begging when she gets enough money to start a business, Awusi (not real name), another beggar at Madina, doesn’t have any intention to stop.
“People like the twins so we get a lot of money. Sometimes people give us items such as clothes and footwear and the food vendors usually give them food,” Awusi said.
According to her, until the twins were old enough to fend for themselves, she won’t stop begging since there were no jobs in the country.
Attempts at solution
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana and the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) call for the protection and well-being of every child. Thus, using the twins to beg for alms amounts to child abuse and a violation of their rights as children.
To ensure that the rights of children are protected, The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has put together a Child and Family Welfare policy.
It seeks to establish a system that promotes the well-being of children in street situations among others.
According to the Acting Director of the Department of Children, Mrs Helena Obeng Asamoah, the policy will bring together both formal and informal institutions for implementation.
“To get a stronger impact, the ministry will liaise with churches, mosques, traditional leaders and assembly members to make it work and also avoid any form of duplication,” Mrs Asamoah said.
Currently, the ministry is training officers from Community Development, Social Welfare, Department of Children and Local Government Services to help make the policy effective.
Aside from the Child and Family Welfare Policy, the Social Welfare Department has started a Street to School Project to help secure a better future for street children.
The Acting Director of the Department of Social Welfare, Mrs Comfort Asare, said the project was implemented to help secure formal education for street children.
“In the last quarter of 2015, about 28 children were removed from the streets into the classrooms,” Mrs Asare said.