Invasion of streets by child beggars: Are authorities helpless?

BY: Emmanuel Bonney
Some street children and their parent on various streets of Accra
Some street children and their parent on various streets of Accra

The menace of street children in Accra is getting out of control, and the Department of Social Welfare under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection seems to be helpless.

Consistently, the Daily Graphic has touched on the menace and its repercussions, but it appears there is no end in sight, as more children are  onto the streets of Accra, the national capital.

A number of people who spoke with the Daily Graphic noted that for Accra to become the cleanest city in Africa, as espoused by the President, the streets must be rid of beggars, hawkers, loiters and the mentally challenged.

Added activities

Another round of week-long monitoring by the Daily Graphic revealed that the street children, accompanied by their parents, had extended their begging activities beyond traffic light intersections across the central business district to residential areas, including Mataheko First Light, the Dansoman Highway, Old Barrier in the Ga South municipality, the East Legon-Shiashie road, the main Tetteh Quarshie-Madina road, the Dzorwulu-Royal Fiesta intersection, among others.

The old areas where they had been operating included Kaneshie First Light, the Graphic Road, El-Wak, the 37 Military Hospital Bus Stop and hospital area, Abeka Lapaz and Paloma on the Ring Road.

Peddling

Now some street children have added the peddling of petty items to the practice of begging for alms from motorists.

The items they sell include small painting brushes, air fresheners, cotton buds, shoe brushes and face masks.

With careless abandon, the kids, some as young as three years, criss-cross the busy roads during traffic hold ups to sell their items.

Motorists sometimes go through harassment at the hands of the children, as some of them forcibly knock on the windows of vehicles in a bid to get the attention of drivers and occupants.

In some instances, they also scratch the bodies of the vehicles with metals, stones and anything they hold in their hands.

On the blind side of drivers, the children, in many instances, rudely peep into vehicles as if they are looking for a treasure.

If they do not get what they want, they go to the extent of insulting drivers.

In separate interactions with the Daily Graphic, the mothers of some of the children said they came through approved routes to Ghana and had all the documentation to that effect.

According to them, their presence in the country was due to the economic hardship in their country of origin.

They said they went through various routes before arriving in Accra, their final destination.

Some of the children said there was no school going opportunities for them in their country.

Ministry’s intervention

When contacted, the Chief Director of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Dr Afisah Zakaria, told the Daily Graphic that the ministry alone could not tackle the issue of street children.

“But we have initiated something with the Ministry of Interior — we have put a committee in place and met on streetism. We have also come up with a proposal as to how to tackle streetism,” she said.

“The Ministry of Interior is going to support us with funds, so that we carry out the evacuation of the people from the streets, because when we take them from the streets, we just don’t go and dump them somewhere else,” she said.

Dr Zakaria explained that those found on the streets were not from Ghana but from another country, “so we have to rehabilitate and repatriate them to their country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have to be involved”.

Asked when the exercise to get rid of the children from the streets would commence, she said when the ministry got ready, the date would be made public.

Previous exercise

Explaining further, the chief director said during an exercise carried out under the immediate past sector Minister, Mrs Cynthia Morrison, the children who were evacuated were rehabilitated, but some ran away, while others were reintegrated with their families.

“Others opted to go back to their families and we were able to reintegrate them. Others also said they wanted to go back to school, and we sent them to school, while some too opted to undergo apprenticeship in mechanics.

“But others sneaked out because while they were at the rehabilitation centre, they gave us problem. They beat the caretakers, broke all the louvre blades and fought among themselves,” she said.

She said there was shelter for both adults and children, adding: “It is funding we need because keeping them is not easy. We have to feed and cloth them,  get them jobs and the rest, otherwise they just run back to the streets.”

UNCHR views

The Communications Officer at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) office in Accra, Ms Pat Folley, said the street beggars could be economic migrants who had left their countries to Ghana to seek greener pastures.

Normally, she said, people who fled their countries during civil wars were registered with the commission as refugees to ensure their protection, among other things.

However, the street children and their mothers were not registered because there was no proof of their identification, she explained.

“There is a difference between refugees and migrants. Refugees are persons fleeing conflict or persecution. Refugees are defined and protected in international law.  The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of refugee protection,” she said.

Further checks with the acting Head of the Ghana Refugee Board (GRB), Mr Tetteh Paddy, indicated that the beggars and their mothers who had invaded the streets were not refugees.

Rather, they were more of economic migrants.

Lasting solution

When reached, the Head of Public Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior, Mr Zakari Musah, said the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection was in talks with relevant institutions, such as the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Police Service and the Ghana Immigration Service, to find a lasting solution to the issue.

“A proposal will be submitted by the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection for inputs by the key institutions mentioned for the way forward. Let us rest assured; the issue will be looked at in the best interest of all, and at the right time, we will communicate the way forward to the public,” he said.

Background

In April this 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 rather asked for adequate planning and interventions 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.