The plight of Street Children

The Kumasi Experience 
An article written by
 Sr. Olivia Umoh, Project Director Street Children Project 

Introduction

As many as 20,000 children from the ages of 5 to 17 spend their childhood on the streets of Kumasi. Children in street situation roam the streets of Kumasi without care, parental guidance, shelter and other basic necessities of life (Peace Corps Head Count, 2013). There are different categories of street children. They are children who spend their whole time on the street generally referred to as 'street children'. They are also children who live with their families in very poor areas (ghetto, slums etc) but come to the streets to hawk, beg, pilfer etc, these are generally referred to as street connected children. There are yet children who come from very poor families who can hardly provide for the basic needs of the children, these children are at risk of taking to the street. This write up would apply a generic term namely, children in street situation and would be referring to children in street situation.

Situation Faced by Children on the street

Children in street situation are exposed to dangers and abuses of various types; they are forced to perform tasks beyond their ages and capacities. They live rough and are exposed to criminal acts such as drugs, alcohol, commercial sex work, pilfering, fighting, etc. These children have no access to education or enterprise training and are likely to grow up into chronic poverty and constitute societal nuisance. Children are faced with harsh inhuman conditions ranging from no shelter to sleep, to no food, no change of clothes and worse of all, exposure to various forms of abuse and danger. They, therefore resort to ways of survival. The girls generally take to carrying load for traders and buyers around the market, washing plates for food vendors, getting involved in commercial sex work, etc. The boys generally take to shoe shinning, sales of sachet water, serving as mates to drivers or pick pocket lifestyle (SCP Annual Report, 2016).

Causes of Children in Kumasi Streets

Generally, street children in Kumasi migrate from very poor rural communities in Ghana particularly the Northern part of Ghana and from poor families whose parents are subsistent farmers and incapable of providing their families with basic necessities of live but continue to procreate without considering their parental responsibilities toward their children. Confronted with so many children to care for, these parents encourage/force their children to Kumasi to work and earn some income for themselves and their families.Some children are also on the street due to oppressive cultural practises whereby children are sent by their families to work for their relatives because of poverty, hunger, and lack of opportunities in the North. In the Dagomba tribe, it is customary for aunts to educate and raise their brothers' daughters; some aunts exploit their nieces and send them to Kumasi to work as porters or child minders.

On the other hand, some children faced with extreme poverty in early childhood and abusive family situations take the initiative to go to Kumasi in the bid to work to sustain themselves. Interestingly, some of these children actually intend to work to earn money to support themselves in formal education or skill training. Other reasons why children take to the street include, neglect from parents often caused by marriage instability; curiosity to seek adventure and desire for freedom, truancy, peer pressure, etc. Interviews with children at Street Children Project Drop-in-Centre and on the street reveal that children leave their homes to live or work on the streets for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, the dominant reasons for majority of children on the streets are related to excruciating poverty at home and the desire to seek better economic opportunities in the city (2016 CIA World Fact book and other Sources).

Context Analysis of Kumasi

Kumasi is the second largest and most populated city in Ghana. Kumasi has a thriving formal and informal business sector; it is the traditional seat of the revered Ashanti Kingdom with its rich cultural heritage. Kumasi is the commercial hub of the Ashanti region and attracts a high number of migrant workers. The formal economy includes: manufacturing (Guinness Ghana Breweries, wood processing, and vehicular parts production), quarrying, urban agriculture, and an integrated system of markets (both wholesale and retail) in Adum CBD and Kumasi Central market. The informal sector is a crowded space: it includes wood works, handicrafts, and small workshops. Although the employment rate is listed as 86% by the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, approximately 60% of its residents have a 'low standard of living.' Poor Ghanaian children struggle to grow up in the pervading hash economic reality. They lack access to basic necessities of life such as sufficient and nutritious food, access to education and health care, clothing and shelter. Thus, Kumasi has been identified as a major transit point in the trafficking of children labour.

Interventions towards ameliorating the menace 

Government Interventions

The government of Ghana has put in place a number of social protection interventions and strategies to address the phenomenon of children in street situation. These interventions and strategies are generally in the form of programmes, policies and legislations. Although, the programmes and other interventions put up by the Ghanaian government were good and geared towards making poor families economically independent. Sadly, implementation has been ineffective hence the phenomena of children on the streets keep on increasing.

Interventions by Other Ngo's

A number of local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) have sprang up in Kumasi with initiatives to address the menace of child streetism in Kumasi. These NGO's generally begin with very attractive projects but soon after their inception they realized the problem is huge and overwhelming and for one reason or the other they fold up or remain in name. Nonetheless, some of the NGO's and philantropic individuals come up now and then with once off project or interventions. Most interventions initiated for children in street situation are remedial and not preventive.

Street Children Project Kumasi

Street Children Project Kumasi (SCP) is a household name in Kumasi and indeed gradually gaining reputation in the whole country of Ghana. Street children Project the leading organization in the provision of holistic services and interventions for children in street situation as well as street connected children in Kumasi. Street Children was established by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi in collaboration with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Province of Nigeria in 2005. Since its inception to date SCP has been managed by the daughters of Charity.

Street Children Project envisions a Ghanaian society devoid of children on the street; one where children would live, grow and are cared for within a home; where no children would spend its childhood on the street. Thus, as a mission, SCP is passionately committed to address this menace by reaching out to assist children in street situation explore other life options than street life. SCP provides children with sponsorship in formal education (from basic to senior secondary and when possible tertiary education) and in enterprise development (skill training) of their choices. Aside from sponsorship, SCP reintergrates children back into their families and comunities; carries out reconciliation/mediation. Intergral among the services of SCP is prevention of child streetism which is carried out through advocacy to government and the general public; family/community /public awarness creation and sensitization on the plight of children in street situation. Among the preventive interventions SCP carries out to salvage the problem of streetism is the provision of early childhood education to babies born and raised on the streets. These are children of young girls who got pregnant on the streets from exploitative relationships and are left to bear the burden of child upbring along side carrying heavy loads for survival. SCP provides a day care center where these children are cared for during the day. The day care center serves triple functions, first, to provide early childhood education to children born on the street to prevent them growing up ito street children, secondly, to prevent expossure of children to the harsh situation of the market where their mothers carry load around and thirdly, to save the mothers from carrying load and baby in the crowded market space of the Kumasi Central Market. One of the most challenging interventions of SCP is the provision of a residential skill training center for girls who may not have stable families to settle after living the street. The traing center provide skill training to girls who leave the street and want to learn employable skills on which to build their future. The center extends its services to poor village girls who wish to learn skills fortheir livelihood.

Conclusion

It is noteworthy that child streetism in Kumasi has been recognized as a social problem by government, civil society, private sector, child streetism endemic communities and indeed all stakeholders. Unfortunately, there is so much talk around child streetism in Kumasi and Ghana as a whole with little actions to back up the talks. At the best, fanciful fanfare once off programmes are organized to attract media focus for public applaud.

Child streetism in Ghana as a whole needs concerted efforts of government, traditional, religious and civil authorities and indeed many key stakeholders to address it from the root causes. Otherwise, the most Ghanaian children will continue to suffer on the street.