On our traffic-prone roads is a negative phenomenon that is currently fast gaining root in the country — children begging. Most of these children come in the company of either their biological parents or guardians who use them to beg for money and as escorts for physically or visually challenged people. Unconfirmed reports indicate that some of these children are ‘contracted’ for a fee as escorts.
That is why in between heavy traffic jams, children are seen either pulling the wheelchairs of the physically challenged or leading the visually impaired to passengers to beg for money. When asked why they are not in school and rather doing what they are doing, they just turn away without answering.
At the Awudome Cemetery Junction in Accra, a woman, probably in her 40s, sits on the edge of a gutter, while her daughter, who will be in her early adolescence, begs for money from road users.
At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the strategy is somehow different. There, a child would come and hold the hand of a pedestrian as he or she passes by and beg for money to buy food to eat because he or she is hungry. Although this form of begging was initially linked to foreign children believed to be from the Sahelian Region, the strategy has, of late, been adopted by Ghanaian children.
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Once, while in a queue waiting to board a vehicle, a young boy of about 12 years came to beg for money to buy food. It was not the first time that child had asked me for money and so I asked him where his parents were. But the moment I asked that, he left without taking the money from me.
At the Trades Union Congress (TUC) traffic lights, there is another woman who is usually at her “trade” with her child strapped to her back and uses the child as a bait for money.
Indeed, even though begging is criminal and is stipulated in the Beggars and Destitutes Act, 1969 (NLCD 392), it is fast becoming an established business in the country and that is a worry to many.
Our parliamentarians, at one of their sittings in February this year, called the Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Mrs Juliana Azumah-Mensah, to answer questions on the phenomenon.
The Daily Graphic, which reported the story in its February 3, 2011 edition, stated that the minister said it was a fact that begging occurred everywhere in the country but it was worse in the regional and national capitals, where children were used.
She explained that Section 87 (a) and (b) of the Children's Act of 1998 prohibited the use of children for any exploitative labour which deprived them of their rights to basic health, education and social development.
Mrs Azumah-Mensah stated that the provisions of those laws suggested that any person who used children for begging, be it dangling on the shoulders or holding the stick, in the case of the blind, had committed an offence and the police had the mandate to arrest such persons.
The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) attached to the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), about two years ago, as reported in this paper, announced plans to rid the streets of children who were used to beg and prosecute those who engaged them in the act, yet nothing has been done.
In an interview, the Director of the DSW attached to DOVVSU, Mr Dela Ashiabor, cited lack of funds as the reason the department had not been able to rid the streets of Accra of children used to beg.
According to him, funding for its programmes normally came from the regional office but the regional office also appeared to be cash strapped.
Mr Ashiabor, who disclosed this when the Junior Graphic contacted him to find out why the department had failed to honour its promises in the past to rid the streets off children used to beg, explained that the department, after picking such children up from the streets, was supposed to provide food and shelter for them until it was able to trace and link them up with their families or guardians, many of whom were usually in the three northern and the Brong Ahafo regions.
"We don't have the money to feed them nor the logistics. The Social Welfare shelter at Osu is over burdened and does not have money,” he said.
He disclosed that aside from linking the children up with their families or guardians after their rescue, it was the responsibility of the department to assist those who were not employed with skills training but said the DSW did not have funds for all that.
"We have not abandoned our plans to rid the streets of children who are used to beg. We are looking for funds and once we get them we will do as was promised," he noted.
Meanwhile, the Public Affairs Officer at the National Secretariat of DOVVSU, ASP Robert Freeman Tettey, has stated that it is not the duty of the police to rescue children who are used to beg on the streets of cities and big towns.
"It is the duty of the DSW and the district assemblies subcommittees on Social Services. However, they can seek the assistance of the police whenever they require our services on any operation aimed at rescuing such children," he explained.
ASP Tettey, who said this in reaction to questions from the Junior Graphic on what the police were doing about the increasing number of children being used to beg on the streets, quoted The Children's Act, 1998 (ACT 560) 96, which state:s "The Social Services subcommittee of a district assembly and the department shall be responsible for the enforcement of these provisions," to support his claim.
He emphasised that in cases that involved children, the police did not take the lead but worked with the DSW and the district assemblies subcommittees on Social Services.
He stated that the police had in the past assisted the DSW to successfully rescue children who were used to beg from the streets.
Story by Augustina Tawiah