Child beggars, a phenomenon that must stop - Dateline Africa
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Child beggars, a phenomenon that must stop

Child beggars, a phenomenon that must stop

02 June 2021

The sun is up again and the Nkrumah interchange and its peripheries have geared into brisk life. Ten year-old Kwame Apau is awake.

Ten year-old Kwame Apau is awake. He finds a piece of chewing stick and a sachet of water to wash his face and commences in earnest what he knows best; street begging.

He says, “Growing up, what I have come to accept is that I have to be on the streets and beg for alms from pedestrians and motorists all day before my family and I could eat. The agony, trauma and ordeal I have to go through as the first of four children pushed me to the streets.

My single mother could barely take care of us so I find myself here. We sleep here, eat here, do everything here, rain or shine and we have never had to experience what it felt like to be in school.

Salamata Zur, an immigrant, who turned 8 years,a few weeks ago, said she together with her mother and two siblings have been in Ghana for some time now and all what they do to survive is to beg on the street.

She said life in Niger, her country of origin, was harsh and brutish and they had to leave home and country.

According to her, they start as early as 7 am till sunset and use all manner of strategies to get money from commuters. She and her family have strategically positioned themselves at the Kwame Nkrumah circle.

“My task every day is to go out on the street every morning to beg for alms as directed by my mother or I starve.”

Unfortunately, though, these children are not the only ones begging on the streets. There are thousands more both Ghanaian and immigrants just like them who find themselves in the same situation, trading their education for the streets.

They are seen everywhere around Ghana’s capital. They keep chasing every car, every person on the roads and shoulders of the road, hoping that a charitable heart will do them the favour of giving out money.

Their activities and presence on the streets combined with the heavy vehicular traffic makes driving through some major streets in the capital lately, a bit tedious.

These people positioned themselves at major traffic intersections including Ring Road Central, Kaneshie, Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Asylum Down, Darkuman Junction among others, begging for some few cedis to survive.

What is most worrying about the situation is that these children, are of school going age, and they seem not to have any idea about their situation.

Street begging is seen as an act of stopping people on the street to beg for cash or kind.

It often occurs for the purpose of securing a material benefit, generally for a gift donation or charitable donation.

It is also the practice of imploring others to grant a favour, often a gift of money, with little or no expectation of reciprocation.

Most children find themselves in the streets due to a number of reasons such as poverty, religion, physical disability, culture, national disaster, civil war, bad habits (drug, alcohol, and gambling dependencies), family heritage, uncontrolled rural–urban migration, and psychiatric disabilities among others.

For many children begging in the streets, that is how they grow up. It is not an easy life but they cannot complain because they do not know better and there is no one to complain to. Often enough young girls suffer sexual abuses in exchange for security, some income or affection, while young boys often turn to violence – using force as a means of intimidation to earn some living. This is one of the ways they have found that somewhat supports them and their families.

Conceptually, studies in Ghana have examined the root causes of child begging without providing empirical reasons for addressing the phenomenon.

The beggary problem has been said to have a lot to do with a country’s socioeconomic and historical aspects characterized by low incomes, high unemployment rates, fast rising cost of living, and high rates of population growth, inappropriate public policies, and continued migration to the city.

Family is a very important element to the life of each and every child. One’s behaviour and attitude towards the world is largely determined by how one is nurtured. Most of these children find themselves begging because that is what they have grown to see their parents do, may be due to a disability or joblessness.

It has therefore become a vicious circle, where these parents direct their children into the streets while they hide somewhere and watch them do the business. The streets are their homes and what they know best.

Unlike Salamata and Kwame, some other children are coerced to solicit for money for profiteers or masters but do not benefit directly from their activities.

Mostly, these children move around in the scorching sun with hungry looking faces to beg for alms.

They are often monitored by their profiteers, who pitch camp at obscure corners and quickly take away the “daily sales” without compensation to the beggars for the work done. They were scorned, insulted, or even beaten up when they are unable to execute the plans of their master.

Their activities have become a source of worry for many, because gradually the number of such children is on the rise. In recent past just a few of them could be spotted at some traffic intersessions, but the situation cannot be said for now.

These children are also daily exposed to risky encounters but without any protection as they go about engaging in this practice which they have come to know as their source of living.

They sleep, eat, and do virtually everything on the streets because they have nowhere to go to. Not only are they endangering their lives to motorists but they have virtually become a nuisance to society. Motorists who would not want to encounter them would quickly roll up their widows immediately they spot them.

Something must be done as soon as possible to stop this practice because not only would these children grow to become a burden on society, but this vicious circle raises fears that there would be an increase in child criminality if children continue to beg in the streets, particularly attacking the vulnerable late at night, and this in turn may lead to a criminal adulthood.

The rise in teenage pregnancies is another reason for concern, as this would contribute to an already rapidly increasing population in the country and producing more future beggars.

Immediate steps have to be taken by authorities to help, if not to curb the practice, but to reduce the numbers to the barest minimum. Citizens also have equal roles to play.

There is always hope and it starts with education. Going to school, attending skills workshops, learning about the importance of family planning, among others are all steps towards alleviating the burden of street begging children.

Informing street children about the existence of NGO’s and other organizations willing to offer help to people like them is an essential element too. Making them aware of the welcoming support they could always turn to anonymously, is important in helping them begin to trust, share and find solutions for a better future.

As a country it is also important to increase and resource the number of orphanages or homes available.

These are places where such children could find shelter and acquire the various skills they will need to earn a decent living as well as become better citizens.

The laws of the country, especially, the Children’s Act and related legislations must be enforced to the fullest to dignify Ghanaian childhood.

The immigrants amongst them, must also be repatriated. No stone must be left unturned, in fixing this social canker.

There is also the need for awareness creation by child activists, civil society, and gender advocates to sensitize, educate, and fight for the rights of children who have been turned into beggars and free them from the social shackles.

These interventions must address the immediate and medium term risks to children who are forced to beg. And more importantly, the long-term intervention should target families who freely offer their children to stay with other relatives with the view of educating them. Such parents should be sensitized on the need to do regular follow-ups on such children to avoid any future repercussions associated with child begging.

Finally, a range of training programmes particularly for the Police and social workers are needed to help them to respond sensitively to the peculiar needs of these children.

For many, begging has increasingly become socially and economically constituted process that mediates poverty and livelihood challenges, and stopping the phenomenon will require innovative approaches that go beyond conventional legislations. All must show interest and work towards eradicating this bad phenomenon.

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