More than 100,000 persons in Ghana are homeless on any given night. Some people sleep in market shelters, others sleep on floors in shops, and the majority sleep in uncompleted buildings with their children.
The term ‘streetism’ is used to describe children who live and work on the streets due to broken family ties, and being stuck in manipulative relationships whereby their guardians use them to support the household financially through various activities on the street. Unfortunately, this is the result of a surge in urbanisation and many difficult socio-economic challenges rural families are experiencing.
Currently, about 61,492 children are on the streets of Accra struggling to survive. In May 2009, a head-count of street children was done in Accra. The result obtained showed that 43% of the total population were males and 57% were females. In Ghana a large number of street children can be found in central Accra, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area, Kumasi, Tamale and other major centres. The largest number of street children come from the Northern Region of Ghana, forming 28.53% of children found on the streets of Accra.
In Ghana, nearly 1 in every 6 children age 0 – 17 does not live with either biological parent (16%); of these, 81% have two living biological parents and another 14% have one. Only 5% of children who do not live with a biological parent have no surviving parent.
The purpose of this article is to give detailed attention to the causes and effects of streetism in Ghana, and also to prescribe measures which should be taken to curb this nuisance. Streetism has been a major challenge and a bottle-neck to governments in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Ghana where there are several identified causes.
Streetism is as a result of Rural-Urban migration and the difficult socio-economic circumstances rural dwellers face. Some children are on the streets of Accra because they are living up to a certain level constrained freedom in their homes and they believe there is no limit to freedom on the streets; while others are less privileged children who move to the streets in search of money. Many of such children are homeless because of the impact of divorce, death of a parent, parents not being able to provide the child’s needs, or lack of parental care.
Rural-Urban migration is a huge risk, as most street-children in Ghana are seen on the streets of major cities like Kumasi, Accra and Tamale – with Accra alone housing over 50,000 street-children. Many children move from rural areas to major cities in search of greener pastures. Since these children who are from the rural areas have no family members in the cities, they end up forming alliances with other street-children and become residents of the streets.
Poverty as another causative factor of streetism. Children found on the streets are likely to be from poor families. Most of these children have parents who cannot cater for their needs and take proper care of them. Some of these parents abandon their older kids so as to be able to cater for the younger ones, due to financial problems. These children end up on the streets where they find comfort and also struggle to take care of themselves – similar to the ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.
Second Generational Street Children (SGSC)
Another cause of streetism in Ghana is what’s termed Second Generational Street Children (SGSC). Some children are born of parents who are also on the streets. This automatically makes the street their homes; and as such, these children also end up on the streets since they have nowhere else to call home other than the streets.
There are many other factors of streetism – such as polygamy, whereby mothers eventually leave their marriages due to conflicts among wives as a result of basic needs-deprivation and they end up on the streets with their kids – or in many cases the kids run away from conflicted homes to find peace elsewhere, and they end up in the streets.
Lastly, delinquent acts or truancy has also been a factor of streetism in Ghana. Some children like to be on the streets rather than any other place. Although this might be the result of maltreatment in their homes or schools, they clearly have nothing to do with financial constraints or predicaments. Surprisingly, there are special cases wherein some children from rich families – due to their desire for the street lifestyle in general – are motivated to form alliances with others and engage in social vices, and as well as end up on the streets.
Generally, every child will need to survive when on the street; and so they end up engaging in multiple activities which are very dangerous and can affect their health or lives in general. Some of these activities include pushing wheel-barrows, joining construction sites, washing cars or buses, carrying loads, and acting as bus conductors just to mention a few.
Streetism has a variety of effects on both children in the street and the society in which they find themselves: and these effects can be detrimental to their families, communities and the nation at large.
Health hazards and abuse are major problems for street children in Ghana. Major diseases affecting street-children include, malaria, fever, cold, rashes, cholera, headaches and infections. The children also work in unconducive environments where they are vulnerable to defilement -i.e., rape cases wherein some kids, especially young girls, are easily exposed to men taking away their innocence. These children are at considerable risk and are more likely than other children to suffer from a serious physical injury due to an accident such as falling, drowning, fire or ingesting poison. However, all these could be minimised if they were living in properly structured and regulated settings.
Children in the streets lack all forms of security and easily fall prey to any possibly harmful person. As a result, they are at greater risk than other children of being physically and sexually abused by strangers and passers-by. These result in unwanted pregnancy – which further exposes them to a lot more health hazards, and sometimes death.
Streetism poses a great national threat to Ghana and is a huge challenge that must be resolved. Most crimes like armed-robbery, prostitution, kidnapping and drug-abuse can be related to streetism. Since most children who find themselves on the streets are unable to access formal education or learning trades, they engage in such vices in an attempt to make ends meet.
Measures to curb the menace of streetism include:
- easy access to basic and social amenities such as running water, roads, hospitals, schools, libraries, community centres to support or improve the lives of residents.
- The bonds that families share should be strengthened in order to keep them together. This is the only way to prevent kids from ending up in the streets.
- Effective public education on streetism in Ghana. Most citizens are ignorant about the effects of streetism on the country and tend to care less about it; but if education is given, the entire concept will be appreciated and help curb it.
This world-wide socio-economic problem – of vulnerable children continue migrating to the streets due to personal and contextual reasons – can and must be abolished.
Suggested policy directives
- Government should allocate specific funds to minimise urbanisation and support poor families, especially families of children who are pushed into the street due to poor family backgrounds.
- The ministry of social welfare and organisations that work for the welfare of street children should coordinate their activities by pooling resources together to address the challenges faced by children who live in the streets. Temporary shelters could be provided for the children till a lasting solution is found.
- Funding should be provided for those children who want to go back to school. Those who prefer vocational skills could also be given skills such as shoe- and beads-making, fashion-designing and carpentry. These skills could equip them for the job market rather than living on the streets.
- NGOs must support by providing basic and social amenities for underprivileged communities.
- The media should sensitise and educate the general public by creating awareness on the dangers associated with children living in the street.
- Social workers have a responsibility to offer counselling services on behavioural and child psychology to families, in order to reduce the level of violence and abuse in homes.
>>>The writer is Executive Director, Kandifo Institute. He can be reached on [email protected]