The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) will be 21 soon, our Children’s Act 560 also turns 12 this year. How are we balancing the equation 21:12 by making sure, All rights are enjoyed by all Children? My friends and I explored life at one of Ghana’s busiest market places. Business was on as usual and the scorching sun spared none at the Accra-Tema station, trotros moved in and out as mates called out to passengers, hawkers and market women were not left out- they sung the names of their displayed wares to catch the attention of passersby.
A week earlier we had visited and noticed the number of children in labour at the place had gone down, thanks to advocacy and interventions from Government and N.G.O’s, much still needs to be done till streetism is no more. The girls we saw were into head porting, popularly known as ‘Kayayei’, they looked able-bodied and small in features, one could guess they were between ages eight and thirteen. Our curiosity to know more led to an interview with them and other children we later met. Surprisingly, all the girls we spoke to hail from Wale-wale in Northern Ghana, and poverty was mostly blamed for their moving to Accra to seek greener pastures, only to realize it was not green down south as they had heard.
Evelyn, Caleb, Gabriel, Amponsah and I spoke to Ayisha, a ten year old ‘Kayayoo’, she held a huge pan with which she carried her goods, goods sometimes more than she weighed. She ate once a day, if lucky twice, it made us wonder how she managed a meal or two with her tiring job. Ayisha was schooling, but had to drop out of primary three as they moved to Accra, how then do we achieve MDG 2(achieving universal primary education by 2015)? Malik, a ten year old pure-water hawker starts work in the morning till 9pm and often beyond if he did not sell an expected amount- night work, depriving him of education and his proper development, we had to buy some of pure water to make up for the time spent with him. Malik revealed he stayed with a foster family and all the biological children of that family are in school and he was promised education, from where he is now, education is out of sight. Malik unlike Ayisha (who looked confused and left the question unanswered) when asked what he wants to be in future, boldly replied “I would love to be a Taxi-driver”. I was not surprised, it was all around him, I believe Malik would aim higher if he was in school.
Where Ayisha and others sleep is nothing to write home about, they lack proper shelter, you should see Tema station at night; the place crowded with people packed like sardines on the floors, sleeping on card boards with rubber covering them as they endured the cold nights and rainy days. Others had kiosks to manage, not free, unscrupulous men take advantage of their vulnerability and make many young mothers-“Children caring for their own children”, and this may continue in a vicious cycle, her children may end up the same way on our streets. Considering their features, they might lose their babies or their lives in delivery. How, do we then achieve MDG 4 and 5, which seek to reduce child mortality and maternal mortality respectively?
Again, in an age where role models and mentors are vital to help young ones shape their lives to be the best they can be and contribute to Ghana’s development, our young siblings on the streets have none but; prostitutes, drug addicts, pick-pockets, fraudsters, thieves and armed-robbers to look up to, where then lies the better future for Ghana? Some of the market women make few of these Kayayei their sales girls, good, but not enough to ameliorate their state, and though there have been some interventions here and there, they do not seem to directly address issues of streetism, child labour etc.
Need I say more? We are all involved, for we are also affected. How? Our social amenities i.e. hospitals, buses, schools are pressured when folks migrate to Accra and else where. Secondly, security and safety of citizens becomes an issue when street children become misfits, thereby monies allocated to other equally important but urgent developmental projects are diverted to solve such issues. Children like Ayisha and Malik are in need of care, protection and education. Who knows? They are resourceful and have potential to solve some of Ghana’s problems and build our world together with the fortunate.
-Cecil Ato Kwamena Dadzie (ghanabakwamena)