“I grew up in a house in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, where I thought was my home. I lived with a man I thought was my biological father, but the wicked treatment he meted out to me at the tender age of five was not what I expected from a father. Initially, I did not know that my mother had divorced my biological father and got married to this wicked man I thought was my father”.
Ms Jennifer Anaasa, now 18 years old and a mother, narrated her ordeal she went through at her tender age, to GNA at a recent passing- out ceremony of skills training organized by Afrikids Ghana, a Child Right Non-Governmental Organization in Bolgatanga this year.
She said her biological mother broke the news to her when the maltreatment became unbearable and she tried to run away from home. Her biological father was from Kandiga in the Upper East Region, she was told and so she set out to look for him.
The above scenario is not limited to Ms Anaasa and is among one of the major factors that account for streetism in our Ghanaian Society and if not checked now could affect the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) particularly goals one, three and four.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Ghana subscribes to and the African Union Agenda 2064 among other things calls for an end to all forms of barriers to the wellbeing of all persons particularly children.
Unfortunately, on her part, Ms Anassa arrived at her hometown only to be told that her biological father died leaving her uncle and other family members who refused to accept her and asked her to leave the house because her father was not alive.
“The worst part of it was that they used to deny me food, so I had no option than to go to Bolgatanga to sell pure water to fend for myself”, Ms Anaasa wept narrating this part of the story.
As the Ghanaian adage says, “it is only one person who gives birth to a child, but once the child is born, it behoves on everyone to help in the proper upbringing of the child”.
Values of extended family system
In fact this reminds this writer about the good values of the extended family system, which of late has been thrown to the dogs. In that era where the extended family system worked, societies were natured on solid foundations without wayward children. This was because it was a collective responsibility of the society to help in the upbringing of children.
In fact, there is no gainsaying that the extended family system contributed positively to the growth and development of both community and the nation in those days and there were no street children, child delinquencies, teenage pregnancies and school dropouts as it is today.
Unfortunately, Ms Anaasa, a typical street child who just completed a 20-month vocational training in weaving under the AfriKid’s Ghana School of Night Rabbits Project, like many of her counterparts did not benefit from the extended family system.
The only Institution that came to her support was AfriKids Ghana, a Child Rights Organization working in Northern Ghana with the aim of assisting street children to have access to quality education and to live dignified lives.
Ms Anaasa who comes from Kandiga Community in the Kassena-Nankana West District of the Upper East Region, about an hour’s drive from Bolgatanga, became a street girl in Bolgatanga, specifically the Bolgatanga lorry park after her mother sent her home from Kumasi.
Ms Anaasa lived in the streets of Bolgatanga, where she worked and survived.
When she arrived in Bolgatanga, she hoped to find a decent work that could enable her to go back to school or acquire some equipment and go back to her village to learn a trade.
Rather, in her vulnerable state, she became a teenage mother at the age of 16 and was abandoned by the boy who got her pregnant.
She battled in life on the streets to be able to survive with her baby until AfriKids Ghana came to her rescue.
Ms Anaasa said she wanted to become a well-educated person however, she expressed gratitude to AfriKids Ghana for giving her the opportunity to learn a trade that could turn her fortunes around for good.
The story of Ms Anaasa is not different from that of many other children especially those on the streets.
Causes of streetism
It is the same economic circumstances and plethora of other factors that are the predicaments of children who live in the streets.
The situation in Upper East Region
Streetism is one of the major problems confronting the region, many children of school going-age who live in the streets either beg or sell small items to earn a living and when it is night they do not have any place to lay their heads other than on the streets or at the lorry parks.
They give many reasons ranging from poverty, which was a canker, broken homes as it is in the case of Ms Anaasa.
Most of these street children particularly girls become victims of varying degrees of harassments including; rape, prostitution with its associated consequences of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV/AIDS, and unwanted pregnancy, which lead to early parenthood and deepening the perpetual vicious poverty cycle in the region.
According to Ms Georgina Aberese-Ako, the Upper East Regional Director of the Department of Children, as a result of the phenomenon, teenage pregnancies and child marriages continue to rise in the region leading to school dropouts and high illiteracy.
She indicated that statistics from the Ghana Health Services in the region revealed that for the first half of 2019, teenage pregnancies were still high with Binduri District recording the highest of 21.4 percent while Bawku Municipal recording the lowest of about 10 percent.
She said although child marriage slightly reduced from 36 percent to 28 percent in the region, the statistics were only those cases that were reported to the Health Directorate.
Facts and figures
A report released by the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in April 2019, suggest that 175 million children of pre-primary age globally were not enrolled in school, while in Ghana about 400,000 children are not enrolled.
Intervention of AfriKids Ghana
AfriKids Ghana, a Child Rights Non-Governmental Organisation, established in 2002, has over the years with funding supported from the Department for International Development (DFID) through the partnership with the United Kingdom AfriKids Charity have worked to provide education to less privileged children.
AfriKids Ghana now operates in 21 municipalities and districts across the five regions of the north including; Northern, Savannah, North East, Upper East and Upper West Regions, and has worked with various stakeholders including; traditional authorities and communities to fight the killing of deformed children, usually referred to as, ‘spirit children’.
Over the years, over 16,000 children have benefited from access to quality education through the Complementary Basic Education Programme and about 200,000 children have benefited from some other educational interventions, whilst over 8,000 girls are being empowered in sexual reproductive health.
For instance, AfriKids Ghana under its School of Night Rabbits, with support from the EMpower, a United Kingdom charity organization in 2018 mainstreamed 98 street children into formal education system in the Bolgatanga after going through nine months literacy and numeracy tuition.
Mr Nicholas Kumah, Country Director, AfriKids Ghana, told GNA that in 2019, the organization mainstreamed 55 street children into various formal schools in the Bolgatanga Municipality after also receiving lessons in literacy and numeracy for nine months.
He added that a further 10 other street children trained in vocation and technical skills for a period of 20 months.
Mr Kumah disclosed that each of the 10 children who received training in the skills programme for the 20 months were given GH¢100.00 to provide their needs during the period of training.
Organizations like UNICEF, World Vision also contributed significantly to promote child rights and protection of children to have quality of life yet the situation seems worsening.
Laws and Conventions on Child Rights
The street children, irrespective of the circumstance that led them to the street, their rights as children were denied and the situation kills every aspiration they had while growing up.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
Governments of countries that ratified the Convention are required to report to, and appear before, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child periodically to be examined on their progress with regards to the advancement of the implementation of the Convention and the status of child rights in their country.
Ghana, a signatory to the Convention is obliged to ensure the promotion and protection of child’s right irrespective of the child’s nationality. Local instruments adopted by Ghana to help achieve this goal include; the Children’s Act of 1998, Act 560, the Persons with Disability Act of 2006, Act 715, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2003, Act 653, the Human Trafficking Act of 2006, the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 and the Child and Family Welfare Policy of 2015.
Apart from these laws and instrument, government through the Department of Children under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has institute certain policies including; the Child and Family Welfare policy.
Has Ghana done enough as a country to mitigate some of the challenges confronting the successful achievement of the SDGs which among other things calls for an end to all forms of barriers to the wellbeing of all persons including children? The answer would definitely be a big NO.
For the country to successfully attain the SDGs, government needs to be proactive when dealing with issues affecting children implementing policies that inure to their growth.
This is because, the children are the future leaders of this country and when they are not well nurtured, cultured and taken care of, the future of our country is “doomed”.
Ms Aberese-Ako proposed that more social intervention projects should implemented geared at empowering rural families to undertake economic activity that would empower them financially sound to take care of their wards.
The AfriKids Ghana Country indicated streetism was a national phenomenon and needed to be looked in a broader and holistic manner.
It is therefore the responsibility of all stakeholders including; parents who were the primary stakeholders in this regard to play significant roles to addressing the numerous challenges facing children and contribute to achieving SDGs.