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Child beggars exchange safety for alms

BY: Blessing Aglago

They usually come unnoticed. Before you realise , they start hitting  the side door  of  the vehicle you are travelling in and make frantic gestures indicating that they are  hungry. 

They look unkempt, famished and hopeless. In the midst of their misery, they usually force a smile just to draw your attention to offer them some money.
These are some scenes in Accra that characterise some public spaces where child begging takes place.

These beggars hang around the 37 Military Hospital traffic lights, Kaneshie First Light, The Central Business District, Dansoman Highway, the East Legon-Shiashie road, Tetteh Quarshie-Madina road, the Dzorwulu-Royal Fiesta intersection, among others, in Accra. You are likely to find mothers either sleeping or seated quietly looking on as their children beg for alms.

A number of these child beggars and parents are foreigners from neighbouring countries such as Niger and Mali who are in Ghana for economic reasons.

Ages of the child beggars range between three to 14 years. The babies are usually left alone crawling around the bare ground with their mothers looking on with dejection.

When The Mirror visited some of the known spots for child begging in Accra, last week, some drivers and motor riders said the situation compromises the safety of these children as they are at risk of getting run over by vehicles.

A driver at the 37 Trotro Station, Aurelius Mensah, shared similar sentiments .
“I feel pity for these children, because on the road, they can easily be hit by oncoming vehicles.

Since they are children, it is sometimes difficult to see them and one might just run over them. But when you look beyond their situation, you will realise that they are exploiting the public”, he added.

A taxi driver, Kofi Kyei, told this reporter that he believed giving money to these children would neither solve their problems nor that of their parents because some of the grown up children were petty thieves. Taking them off the street would be of no use unless there was a follow-up regularly by the authorities.

What really bothers me is that these children are exploited by their parents, who sit nearby under shady trees, and don’t even move when their children bring the money they acquire through begging”, he said.

One motor rider, at the Dzorwulu-Royal Fiesta Intersection who gave his name as Abu said , “I have to ride with caution always, especially when approaching traffic lights because some of these children are small and if care is not taken, I may knock them down. The children, some as young as three years, crisscross the busy roads during traffic hold ups to sell their items and I sometimes wonder what gives them such courage because it is risky,” he explained.

Another driver, Akwasi Oppong, at The Central Business District said “the risks these children are exposed to are serious. For instance, you find several kids around the main Airport Traffic light and in most cases, physically-challenged people in wheel chairs begging to earn a living. It’s very easy for vehicles to run over them. I nearly run over one of them at the 37-traffic lights. I was not myself the whole day and I couldn’t eat ” he recalled.

Other motor riders stressed the need for the authorities and stakeholders to advise the public to desist from giving out money to them as that was what encouraged them to remain on the streets.

A passenger, Ms. Mabel Agyeiwaa, who had an encounter with one of the child beggars at Madina Zongo junction said “it is annoying how they cross you sometimes, especially when you are in a hurry, and even how they will pull your dress as if you owe them or something which is very annoying”

A trader, who sells on a footbridge at Madina, said most of those children were not with their biological mothers and were being forced to beg for money at a percentage. You will pity them for their condition but they don’t pity themselves”, she said

One of the child beggars, aged 11, said “ the woman I usually come on the street with isn’t my real mum. “After the day’s work, she gives me something”.
A pedestrian at Kaneshie First Light, David Addae, told this reporter he was often scared when he saw child beggars.

“There was this time I boarded a bus from Mallam to Accra. When we got to Kaneshie first light, my heart skipped a beat and fear took over because I thought the driver had run over one of the children but fortunately, the driver screeched to a halt while the child, look unconcerned.

Background
In April last year, the Department of Social Welfare said the Madina Social Welfare Shelter in Accra was not in a position to take in child beggars from the streets.
It asked for adequate planning and interventions to be put in place before child beggars were removed from the streets.
In August 2017, the Gender Ministry launched “operation get off the street now for a better life”, with the aim of eradicating the phenomenon of street children from the country.