Street children represent one of the most marginalised groups of children worldwide. They face multiple deprivation of their rights on a daily basis. These children can be found in majority of the world's cities, with the phenomenon more prevalent in densely populated urban centres of developing or economically unstable regions, such as Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia.
According to a report from the Consortium for Street Children, a United Kingdom-based consortium of related non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 100 million children were growing up on urban streets around the world.
Suffering of street children
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The suffering of street children is remembered worldwide on April 12, an international day organised to draw attention to the phenomenon, with a focus on identity.
The International Day for Street Children was launched in 2011 by the Consortium for Street Children (CSC), the leading international network dedicated to realising the rights of street children worldwide, with help from its global corporate partner Aviva, to ensure that millions of street children around the globe have their voices heard. The day is now celebrated in over 130 countries by street children and their champions.
The day is celebrated across the globe by policy makers, celebrities, corporates bodies and individuals to draw attention to the challenges confronting street children and what could be done to save them.
The causes of this phenomenon are varied, but are often related to domestic, economic or social disruption, including but not limited to poverty; breakdown of homes and/or families; political unrest; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; domestic violence; lured away by pimps, Internet predators or begging syndicates; mental health problems; substance abuse; and sexual orientation or gender identity issues.
Some children may end up on the streets because of cultural factors, such as allegation of witchcraft, refusal to agree to an arranged marriage, as well as religious factors.
The Ghana Statistical Service estimates that approximately 27.2 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 years in Ghana were working in 2001. The report indicates that in rural areas, children can be found working in fishing, herding and as contract farm labourers. Children also work as domestics, porters, hawkers, mine and quarry workers and fare-collectors. In urban centres such as Accra, street children work mainly as truck pushers, porters and sales workers.
Many children spend time in the streets during periods that should be spent in school or at home. Research conducted by the Department of Social Welfare indicates that there are 33,000 children living on the streets in the country.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are thousands of children living and working on the streets, and the number is growing in Accra. This is a result of increased urbanisation and the difficult socio-economic circumstances rural families are experiencing. Like other children living and working on the streets, kayayei are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, including what may be a higher risk of exposure to sexual abuse, leading to HIV/AIDS.
In 2003 the Ghana Statistical Service and the ILO International Programme to Eliminate Child Labour (ILO/IPEC) surveyed 2,314 street children throughout the country, most of whom lived in the urban areas of the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions and had migrated from rural areas in the northern parts of the country.
Best interest of children
Ghana was the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, therefore, was bound by international law to act in the best interest of those children and show commitment to protect the vulnerable children in society and express belief in strengthening community-based systems which are very effective in protecting children and preventing unsafe migration.
The country has also put in place a number of social protection interventions and strategies to address the phenomenon of street children.
These include the establishment of community child protection teams, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), the Capitation Grant and he School Feeding Programme, the implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) and the registration of young girls doing menial jobs (kayayei), among others.
This year, Hope Training Institute, an institution that trains street children, marked the International Day for the Street Child with a mentorship programme in Accra on the theme: "Providing meaningful hope beyond the street child."
The Director of the institute, Mr Amos Asuma Karikari, said this year, they decided to celebrate the occasion by arranging for a social icon, Mr Alfred Korlie Matey, the Chief Executive Officer of Freddie's Corner, dealers in mobile phones, to mentor children of the institute.
He said Mr Matey was selected because of his bitter experience as a teenager.
Mr Karikari said if street children were not well catered for, they would become miscreants in the society, stressing that to make these children useful citizens, his outfit had established a training school to offer a two-year training in vocational skills for them.
He said each year they picked 30 children between the ages of 16-25 to train them in tie dye making, dressmaking, masonry, auto mechanic, creativity and engineering.
For his part, Mr Matey, who recounted his bitter experiences as a teenager, advised the children to be God fearing, very optimistic and seek wisdom from successful people.