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Missing children on the increase in Accra

BY: Augustina Tawiah
Front view of the shelter
Front view of the shelter

The number of missing and abused children sent to the Osu Shelter for Abused Children has doubled in recent times.

From an average of three children a week, the figure has shot up to between six and eight a week, and the number sometimes shoots up during festive occasions.

According to the Manageress of the shelter, Gifty Tekpor, the ages of the missing children were usually between six and 17, but sometimes there were babies.

Osu Shelter for Abused Children

The Osu Shelter for Abused Children is different from the known Osu Children’s Home.

Established in October 2003, the shelter is a temporary facility set up by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and at the moment it is the only state shelter for abused children.

It currently has 30 children, including missing, abandoned, trafficked and abused children.

It also admits children who have custody issues and those rescued from child marriages.

Category

In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Ms Tekpor said the category of children described as missing children included those found on the streets by Good Samaritans and sent to the Department of Social Welfare or DOVVSU of the Ghana Police Service.

Such children could neither retrace their way back home nor give any information that could help trace their families, she said.

She also said children whose parents had abandoned them because of hardships fell under the abandoned children category, while abused children, on the other hand, were those who were sexually abused by either their guardians or older people, as well as those who were physically abused by their parents or suffered maltreatment at the hands of caregivers or the family.

Challenges

The manageress intimated that the situation was compounded by the fact that most of those missing children were unable to mention the names of their parents or caregivers, nor could they provide their parents’ contact numbers, a situation that made it difficult for the centre to locate and integrate the children with their families.

Although she said the shelter was a temporary facility where the children were not supposed to spend more than a year, some of them had spent more than two years there because of the difficulty in tracing their families.

She, therefore, asked parents to educate their children and provide them with enough information about themselves, so that in the event that the children lost their way, they could give enough information to help in reuniting them with their families.

“Every child should know the names of his or her parents or caregivers, their contact numbers, the area they stay or the district, the names of the assembly members, their siblings and landlords.

“Those in school should know the names of the schools they attend and their class teachers. If they go to church, they should know the names of the churches, the pastors and the Sunday school teachers. If they know all these, we can easily locate their families and integrate them when they get missing,” she noted.

She said there had been instances when the shelter had been successful in tracing the families of missing children but the parents refused to go for the children because they claimed they did not have money even for transportation to the shelter.

Reasons for the increase

Ms Tekpor attributed the increase in the cases of missing and abused children to poverty and lack of parental care, explaining that some parents left home very early in the morning while their children were still asleep, and when the children woke up and could not find their parents, they went in search of the parents, ending up not being able to find their way back home.

She said some were also brought to the city to work as house helps, but because of the maltreatment they faced in the hands of their madams, they attempted to run back to their families but could not find their way out.

To help resolve the issue of particularly missing children, the manageress said it would soon start publishing the pictures of missing children at police stations, marketplaces and public places so that their families could easily identify and go for them.

Impact of the increase

On the impact the increase had on the shelter, Ms Tekpor said it had placed a huge financial burden on the facility because, aside from providing the children with three square meals, the shelter also had to take care of all their needs including clothing, shelter and medical.

“Most of the children are brought to the shelter very sick and, therefore, require immediate medical attention, while others have to be put on regular medication,” she explained.

Ms Tekpor said the shelter needed more logistics to make it more efficient and, therefore, appealed to individuals, non-governmental organisations and institutions to go to its aid by providing it with toiletries, computers and photocopiers to run the office.

The manageress urged parents whose children got missing to check them up at the shelter after checks at police stations had proved unsuccessful, explaining that “the shelter is where all missing children are finally sent until their parents have been found.”

She advised parents who abandoned their children to put a stop to that practice because it was considered criminal.