“The street is no place to grow up. You cannot 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.”
“I would like to go to school, but my parents cannot afford to pay the fees and get the materials I need so I just have to make a living on the streets by begging or selling for people”
This and a plethora of others are common predicaments of the children we see wandering on the streets on a daily basis? It is easy to assume that most of these children are seemingly content with the lives they live, but sundry factors, including those that would be discussed in subsequent paragraphs, indicate beyond reasonable doubt that there is more to the menace of streetism than meets the eye.
What is “streetism”? Etymologically, the word means “living on the streets or being of the streets”. A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between luxury and survival, poverty and affluence, dusk and dawn, repulsion and affection, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion.
A broad term used to project the desperate and often harrowing situation of children who are forced to spend most of their lives outside their homes, engaging in menial income generating activities and begging in order to make a living, and often having to brace unpredictable odds of a cruel weather to sleep rough on the streets.
As it is in most African countries, child bearing is considered an indispensable aspect of marriage. A childless marriage is considered loathsome, both morally and spiritually, for the couple, their extended family and society.
Against such a backdrop is the problem of children living on the streets of Accra and a considerable number of urbanised enclaves in Ghana without benefit of monitoring by any adult.
What are the fundamental causes? Why do we have a staggering number of children of school going age crisscrossing the streets of Accra, selling wares and hawking amidst dangerous city traffic, setting in motion, an irreversible chain of events that leave a trail of children with wounded self esteem and heavily beaten down confidence?
First and foremost, the issue of poverty immediately comes to mind when we set our sights on street children. A significant proportion of the Ghanaian populace live below the poverty line. Poverty is inextricably linked to streetism, in that; poverty sets the tone for parental neglect. Children from economically disadvantaged homes, more often than not, are compelled to engage in activities to fend for themselves. Ultimately, they find themselves on the streets where they engage in selling commodities or simply begging for alms. Some parents completely shirk off their responsibilities in so far as their children are capable of fending for themselves.
Secondly, increasing streetism in Ghana is attributable to the breakdown of the extended family system. In the event of the death of one or both parents of a child, especially when the family is in straitened circumstances, the extended family is expected to take up the responsibility of grooming the children. Quite unfortunately, this very important role expected of the extended family is on a historical low. The families half-heartedly take care of the children or simply ignore them, leaving them with no option but to find a means of livelihood for themselves, and the streets look like a good place to begin a self sustaining livelihood.
Another underlying factor is urbanisation. Most families have ambitious ideas about greener pastures that exist in the city. They migrate from the rural areas with hopes of finding better socio-economic opportunities in the cities, only to be greeted by the shocking spectacle of extremities of living in the society. The final resort is to move to the streets with their children and engage in economic activities for survival.
It is also worthwhile to mention that, the love of adventure and earning of personal income exerts a huge influence on the minds of ardent youth. Most of the youth we see on the streets are actually capable of living financially meaningful lives, but choose to engage in secondary income earning activities on the streets. A street vendor was once quoted as saying that he earns more income selling on the streets than selling in a store.
What are the effects? Streetism triggers an endless cycle of both long and short term consequences.
Street children are perceived in a negative limelight. They are viewed as miscreants who steal to survive. Street children perceive themselves as discriminated against and hated, leaving behind children with wounded personalities and self worth.
Streetism also leads to extreme deprivation and social exclusion, creating opportunities for engaging in crime. A Roman statesman once said “poverty is the mother of crime”.
Streetism creates fertile grounds for child prostitution, drug abuse, child trafficking, child labour and rape. As a result of constant exposure to irresponsible adolescent lifestyles, most street youth grow to become social misfits engaging in criminal activities, as mentioned above.
Most of the street youth, especially young ladies, become victims of varying degrees of crime including rape and prostitution, with its attendant problems of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS, unwanted pregnancy which leads to early parenthood, deepening the issue of poverty.
Like many other societal issues, streetism can be effectively curtailed, if not eradicated.
In the first place, public education is very pivotal in stemming efforts to reduce streetism. Programmes to create awareness for parents, guardians, children and everyone should be reintroduced, intensified and sustained, so that everyone will become aware of the effects of streetism on the development of the child.
The government as a matter of extreme importance should create national policies that do not only protect the inalienable rights of children, but give them timeless opportunities to realise their dreams, no matter their backgrounds.
The government must embrace policies that seek to alleviate poverty and create an enabling environment for parents to engage in meaningful economic activities, in order to provide decent means of livelihood for their families.
The government, society and other stakeholders with primary concern for the welfare of children, should create avenues for the holistic reintegration of streets children into their families and schools, through empowerment programmes and vocational training.
The street is no place to grow up. You cannot 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 rally together and fight the menace of streetism, someday, we will bare these children like a crown of thorns and their children like a mighty cross.
By Blessed Okyere Nyarko