Thursday, March 25, 2010

Child Streetism in Accra. Child Streetism in Tamale too!

Last Tuesday morning, I heard a heart-breaking report on Fiila FM radio in Tamale about the plight of young people who live on the streets. My heart raced to find the writer of the report. So today, I bring you verbatim, the report of child streetism in Tamale, which is said to be the fastest growing city in West Africa.

It’s an honour to share this page today with Ziem Liebyang Joseph Philip (better known as Joseph Ziem) who researched and wrote the said report. Ziem is the News Editor of Fiila FM and doubles as the Northern Regional Correspondent of the Daily Dispatch newspaper. You may contact him at What immediately follows is his report.

“The negligence of some parents to cater adequately for their children is gradually breeding more street children in the Tamale Metropolis. The children are now using the Tamale main Transport station behind the Ghana Telecom Offices as their "homes" where they sleep, bath and eat.

Even though some street adults are also using the station as their sleeping place, about 75 percent of the people using the station as their homes are children usually referred to as "street children". Some of them are without parents and relatives while others are neglected by their irresponsible parents.

Smoking of cigarettes has become part of their lives. Nobody cares how they eat, sleep or access healthcare delivery. One can truly feel or get the clear picture on how these children are managing life only when you take the pain to roam around the Tamale town in the night.

These youngsters, both boys and girls ranging from the ages of 5 to 18 sleep together with some hard guys on pavements, in front of stores and on benches especially around the bus-stops. Most of them are involved in smoking, stealing and prostitution. Some of them are eager to go to school or learn trade but they have no support.

Reports available to Fiila FM from the Youth Idleness Control Centre (YICC), a Tamale based NGO which helps some of these children to learn a trade, has it that the Tamale Metropolis alone hosts close to 4,000 street children who are going through all forms of abuses and life difficulties.
However, our reporter Joseph Ziem asked the children whether they see themselves as street children? They all said yes, but they were ashamed of it, and did not like to be called ‘street children.’ They preferred to be called by their own names. They are apparently very aware of how other people see them, and they told our reporter they call themselves the ‘bad street boys’ because other people think they are bad, because some of them are stealing to survive.

One other important aspect that was considered about the lives of the street children was their security in general. Because most people perceive them as neglected and abandoned children with irresponsible or no parents, they usually intimidate, harass, suppress and use them to their advantage.

But the good thing is that most of them are very cautious of their lives and thus dance to their own tunes since they are fully aware that they will have no relatives to support or come to their defence in case of any eventuality.

I asked them, in clear words why they are not in school. Almost all of them expressed the desire to be in school. Some said though they have parents who have no money to take them to school. I quickly asked, but don’t you know basic education is free in Ghana?

The children intelligently replied: so will the government give us books, bags, pencils, pens, sandals and uniforms? There is no room for us to sleep and there will be no food after school. Some said they have to work to support their families and take care of junior ones because their parents have died, or are sick, or old, just don’t work at all.

The children expect to find work in the street, find friends, earn money, and be able to bring money home to cater for other family.

The children get sick easily, so they tell me, and there is no money for medicine. "If someone needs to go to hospital, we make contribution and if someone hasn’t earned money to buy food, we share what we have". This is the end of the Filla FM news report. My comments follow.

The above report about child streetism in Tamale should shock the conscience of Ghana. Several issues are apparent. First, there are irresponsible parents who enjoy making babies regardless of the reality of their situation. Why bring forth children when you know you do not have the means to take care of them? Child-bearing should not be like staking lotto, with the hopes that someday, some numbers will drop to change ones circumstance.

In times past when Ghana was an agrarian society, it was indeed critical to have several wives and children because they were needed as free labour to work on farms. But no more! The very nature of society has changed. Civilization has caught on with us making it unnecessary to empty ones groin just to populate the earth.

Without a doubt, it is the excess population that spills over into the streets. At one location in Tamale, the above report claims that children constitute 75 percent of people who live on the street. If this statistic is reliable, then we have a big problem on our hands. If nothing is done soon to stem the tide of the phenomenon of the increasing number of discarded youth throughout the county, then in ten, twenty to thirty years, this matter will get out of control and solving it will be next to impossible.

Tamale’s population stood at 300,000 in the 2000 population census. It is currently estimated that Tamale’s population is about 500,000 – still counting. In the above report, the number of street children who live on the fringes of society is estimated to be about 4,000. They are squatters in life and at the mercy of unscrupulous people like rapists. They are open to abuses and to a difficult life. Their safety is compromised.

These children are the victims of the break-down in our society. Not surprisingly, some of them consider the streets as places of hope, of promise and of opportunities, despite the risks because they do not have other options. Some young people spend endless hours of their youthful days as hawkers selling anything they can lay hands on while others are just idle. Yet, we claim that these are the future of tomorrow. Tomorrow indeed!

Fact: the street is no place to grow up. You don’t plant seeds by the roadside on rocky ground in thorns where the wind blows, where wild birds descend and pick the seeds, and yet, expect those seeds to germinate, sprout and bear fruits. As a society, if we do not straighten out this matter of child streetism, someday, we will bear these children like a crown of thorns and their children’s children like a mighty cross.

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