The Good book says children are a blessing to parents. Undoubtedly, children are our heritage. They are the future leaders of our families, communities and nations. For example, Nana Kwaku Duah who was once a child is now the Asantehene under the stool name of Nana Osei Tutu II. Who thought that “Paa” Kofi Annan who was once “roaming the streets of Ghana” as a child would become the “President of the World” ( the Secretary-General of the United Nations) that he now is. It is imperative therefore that we identify, talk about and take action on any factors which put our children at risk.
I will like to share with readers some of my experiences as a parent, an educator and as a research fellow working with and for children both in Ghana and Canada. Since 1990 I have been investigating and writing on the plight of children in Ghana. This endeavor won me a national media award on children in 1993 from the Ghana National Commission on Children. I came to Canada in 1996 and I have had the opportunity to visit other cities in North America. They include London-Ontario, Montreal, New York, Detroit, Buffalo and Chicago. A few years ago I did a research on street children in Toronto for my course in Counseling Psychology. It is with this background that I discuss briefly the problem of street children. The Streets and Our Children In recent times the problem of street youth is taking on a new phenomenon in most of the world. The problem transcends even the orientation toward technology and objects in Western societies. Reports from both Canada and Ghana have it that homeless youth are increasingly finding the streets safer for economic and social reasons. In Toronto, for example, a recent research has revealed that, homeless youth are forming street families to compensate for the dysfunctional support they receive at home. Reports from Ghana also indicate that, streets abound with young street vendors who make a living by selling all kinds of items such as shoe polish, dog chains, toilet rolls and other things. Having no places to sleep, they pass the night infront of stores and shops and are the mercy of the weather. Mrs Agatha Ahia, an Assistant Director at the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) in Ghana was recently reported to have said that 62 percent of nearly 3,000 street children in Kumasi Metropolis are females. This revelation on street children in Kumasi was at a training workshop organised by the Ministry of Manpower Development and Employment in collaboration with the KMA in Kumasi, Ghana. “Mrs Ahia regretted that despite the high figure associated with street children in Kumasi, the number still continue to rise, with females still dominating. She said unless more pragmatic and concrete programmes were put in place to curb the influx of girls into the street, the government's policy of promoting girl-child education and gender balance would come to nought.” (see Ghanaweb, August 31, 2002). Mr Sampson Kwaku Boafo, Ashanti Regional Minister, regretted that even though Ghana is committed to the plight of children as evidenced by being the first country to ratify the UN convention on the rights of the child, the problem of street child persists (ibid). Why are children finding the streets so attractive instead of the “comfort” of the home? Why do children leave the classroom for the streets or roam the shopping malls? Some Causes: Bad company, peer pressure and in some cases, advertising are mentioned as some of the causes of truancy that drive children into the streets. Also, family dysfunction and poverty are identified among the major antecedents, which put children at risk. Risk factors are said to be the things or experiences in a young person’s life that increase the chances of a youth being victimized or of developing one or more behaviour problems which might be harmful to the youth or/and other persons or property. Could it be argued then that parents and society at large put children at risk? Is parenting poor in our homes? Are kids, infested with what I call “neo-culturalism,” drifting away from good parentage? In fact, there are more questions than answers. I will like to note here the efforts being made by some churches to guide and counsel their youth against waywardness. The Toronto Ghanaian SDA Church, for example, is using its education, youth and family life departments to achieve such goals. I trust others are doing the same. Bravo to all who are working for and with children. Knowledge Into Action: My personal philosophy as a parent and an educator is based on the fact that the greatest arm of education is not knowledge but action. Though it is good to have knowledge, the knowledge fails to ‘serve’ humankind if it is not put into action. As parents we need to put our knowledge in child upbringing into action to save our kids from waywardness. The home could be likened to a greenhouse where children grow to their fullest potential under the care of wise and patient gardener. We are like the gardener who nurturers each plant in the greenhouse to come to flower as the Creator has endowed it. “Train up a child in the way he should go....” Proverbs 22:6. Let us remind ourselves that we can’t take our children past where we are. We must therefore, be good examples in both words and deed to our children. This is the biggest contribution that parents can give toward solving the phenomenon of street children. There is also the urgent need for agencies engaged in projects related to children to shift from providing them with mere skills to employable skills. This pragmatic approach would be more beneficial since it could help street children to either get employed in the formal sector or become self-employed. JOE KINGSLEY EYIAH UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, TORONTO-CANADA