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Helping the Needy! – A case of nuisance or frank impoverishment?

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“And so we are appealing to you all; we need your help so that this boy can swallow again. They have been begging on the streets for a while now but the money isn’t up yet. Ketewa biara nsua”.

Walking back to my seat, I kept wondering how long this shall be and how severe will the subsequent cases be? This is the sixth week running since my church began taking money to help pay for surgeries for children who have accidentally ingested one form of chemical or the other. I am told there are more children lined up for their turn to receive their widow’s mite from the congregation.

Begging on the streets of Ghana has become phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Whether you’re a benefactor of beggars, a road user, or an observer, you cannot help but notice the gradual but steady increase in the numbers and intensity of begging on the streets that is beginning to look like a new career, a sensational one at that.

Ghana is a deeply religious country, with nearly all of her citizens practicing one of the three major religions. Knowing fully well that all religious groups stress on kindness, assistance to the poor and destitute and on charity, one can almost palpably see the exploitation of this religious obligation in the form of beggars singing hymns and asking for alms in the name of Jesus Christ or Allah.

During Ramadan, a period of sober praying, fasting and charity or Zakat for our Muslim brothers and sisters, the concentration of beggars in predominantly Muslim communities shoots up significantly.

Like street children and hawkers, the safety of these beggars, usually physically challenged and thus unable to move briskly and avert vehicular accidents is a matter of grave concern.

It gets worrying because most of these children have had to abandon school and beg on the streets because their parents cannot afford the surgeries that will make them better again. And in some cases their parents have to recruit paid ‘marketers’ who are good orators in appealing to the public for money.

Child begging is a reality and it seems to be subtly pervading our society as parents and policy makers look unconcerned. We are looking on as the future leaders of this country waste their lives begging and some maturing into criminals. In the next paragraph I want to speak to some of the causes of this menace and how we can deal with it as a country. If we think of raising our GDP, we must also think of protecting a child.

I will begin to talk about how self-motivation drives children to go onto the streets to beg for alms. Research has proven that nothing motivates children more to beg than the intrinsic motivation to engage in the act. Anyone who thinks that these kids could not have such strong desire for money will be thinking wrong. Most of them you see have actually some tall list of personal needs to fulfil and you will get to know when you get closer to them and engage them in a conversation. The desire to get flashy phones and other electrical gadgets, attracts them into the act and when they are unable to achieve their goal, they are compelled to become criminals in order to get what they want. This degenerates into another problem where the lives of pedestrians are at risk of attacks from these ones to steal their belongings. It becomes more of a threat to the security of students in the universities who may be victims of child beggars on their campus.

Poverty cannot be left out of the conversation as one of the major push factors causing children to walk the streets to beg for alms in order to meet such basic needs as food, cloth and so forth. The economics of development in our country is directed at improving the GDPs, investments, reducing inflation figures, etc. which do not translate into the reduction of poverty in the country. Despite the many social intervention policies such as the LEAP, NHIS, and Free SHS, families continue to wallow in extreme poverty and to most of them the only option they may have is to force their children onto the streets to beg in order to provide for the family. In order words, children have now become breadwinners.

Now, have you realized that education is rather encouraging child begging in Ghana than retaining children in classrooms? Well, here is the thing! When teachers resort to canning children incessantly and abusively they lose interest in siting in the classroom listening to this same teacher impact knowledge into them. The many crude punishments meted out to students coupled with the poor teaching methods in our schools, make most children not to see the need to learn but rather engage the streets to survive. This hinders the development of the child academically and they may become school dropouts for life. Some verbal insults alone that children receive from their teachers are enough to erase all hopes that a child may have in the future.

Humanitarian reasons can also be cited as contributing to children begging on the streets of our motherland. Here comes the question whether or not it is good to give out money or food to child beggars. In Ghana, you see NGOs and individuals giving food and money to children on the streets as part of their activities. But is that a long lasting solution to the problem? You may have your own reason for giving or not giving, but as a matter of fact, the more these children receive these favours the longer they feel motivated to live on the streets. They continue to beg because they know people are so generous to give them what they ask for when they are on the streets.

The last but not the least causal factor here is the failure of government to effectively profess solutions to the menace. In our part of the world leaders have failed to tackle issues of social concern, rather, they lead to enrich themselves at the detriment of poor citizens. Coupled with this is the kind of patronage politics that seems to be carrying our Ghanaian leaders. The politician is unable to pursue policies that are directed at taking these child beggars off the streets all because they will lose some political favour from the people. Even though there exist clear laws- Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Act, the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana-against child streetism [the laws are not specific on child begging which is also a form of child labour] – our leaders have failed to implement these laws to the core and have reneged on their obligation to protect the Ghanaian child even if their parents fail to do so. The politician drives around in town and they see these children in the streets but turn blind eye to them as though to say they are not their parents.

I prefer to leave it here and suggest some measures our government can take to curtail the menace because I can go on and on listing the causes and the effects of child beggars in the country.

Now the solutions…

First, the government must take the resolute stands to tackle the menace and get these innocent children out of the streets. Our laws do mention the welfare of children and the protection they need to survive but do not speak directly to the issue of child begging. The need has arrived for a national policy or law to tackle or head-on the menace of child beggars in Ghana. I belong to a group where people were once discussing how our existing laws even seem to contradict itself on definitions of social welfare, social protection and social development. As long as we fail to give specific meaning to these terms, we may remain far behind efforts to arrest the canker within our society.

The ministry of education may want to consider revising the teaching and learning methods used in schools, most especially public schools, as they are rather causing children to run from the class rooms to the streets. There must be such environment that encourages the child to strive hard rather than discourage and put fear in them through the learning process. The time has come, I believe, for us to ban corporal punishment from our schools. Putting fear in the child does not encourage him or her to learn. It rather affects them psychologically and they may not progress in their academics. These children are the future leaders and we can’t afford to curtail their dreams and lose such human resource to the streets. They are teachers and doctors who will save lives.

Another way to solve this problem is to be more serious on the implementation of the laws regarding the protection of children by their parents. Some parents actually force their wards into the streets to beg for alms in order to meet basic needs or complement family income. Children are most vulnerable and are affected physically and psychologically on the streets which affects their development. Parents must be punished for encouraging their wards to beg on streets in order to serve as deterrent to others who may want to engage in same act. It becomes a crime according to local and international labour laws to engage children in child labour.

My final submission will be not to discourage the act of giving but to say that we must channel our efforts in finding a lasting solution to the problem than giving to child beggars because they look hungry. Let’s see how we can get them out of the streets as well. The fact is, some of these children are truly in need of what they ask for, but we must find other ways of helping them than pampering them with the little we give them on the streets. That is no solution to the problem. And in addition to that government should find more innovative ways of reducing poverty in the country so that we would curtail any possibility of children preferring to live on the streets than stay in classroom.

A lot is being done by many NGOs to help the street child in so many ways but we haven’t gotten there yet. Families must be encourage and educated on how to cater for and integrate their children into the social system without negative consequences; the sibling-to-sibling and parent-to-child relationships must be improved through a proper welfare system. Let’s save our children for the future of this country.

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