Nineteen-year-old Tamata Rahman hails from Savelugu, Tamale. She came to Accra nine months ago to seek greener pastures; but instead found herself caught in a poverty trap - like thousands of Kayeyei women around a strange city, she doesn't know how to get out. But even if she does get out, back to what? You may call it the rural-urban migration trap.
As the sun blazes down on the Kokomba market people can be seen taking cover under shade of any size to escape from the unrelenting scorch. But this Kayayei mother-of-one does not have such a luxury despite the heavy load she was carrying; she needs to move on because she had to make ends meet.
Her dream has become a nightmare but she can"t get to wake herself up. Now working as a head porter in the busy markets of Accra, Tamata found out too late what the standard of living in a metropolitan city such as Accra is really like. The rigorous hardship she faces in her everyday life in the city compels her to reminisce about home. "Life is far better and easier in Savelugu compared to Accra,” she observes.
But despite all these difficulties, Tamata is willing to strive on in an alien and unfriendly environment. “If I get ¢2 to ¢3 million I will go back home and start a hairdressing business; this has been my dream, but so far I have been able to raise only ¢500,000,” she told Statesman reporters.
Tamata Rahman's situation is not exceptional. Her story is no different from that of Amila.
Amila, who does not know her age but is probably in her late thirties, came to Accra to “look for money” in order to feed her family back home, she says. She also comes from the Northern Region –Tolon Kumbugu – and has been in Accra for the past two years. She has two children who attend school. She described the Kayayei work as “tedious and difficult,” but at the same time, recognises that it is a must in order to survive.
Amila's husband has two wives, of which she is the first, with six children. She says she frequently remits money home for her children's upkeep.
She makes ¢30,000 a day, and spends ¢10,000 on food, and saves the rest with a susu collector, who acts as a bank – with members depositing a fixed amount every day to collect at the end of the month. Amila pays ¢5,000 a week as rent for a wooden structure at the Kokomba market. “When I get sick I go to the pharmacy because I cannot afford the hospital,” she says.
Kayayei are mainly migrant workers from the northern part of Ghana who carry head pans which they use to cart foodstuff for people who come to shop at the market. They are often seen carrying large loads on their heads in the various market places in town. The majority of the girls live and ply their trade at Old Fadama, Kokomba market, CMB, Avenor, Tema Station, Tudu and the Agbogbloshie areas.
The settlements of the Kayayei are a mix of property owners and squatters who live in unauthorised wooden structures. One dominant feature of these areas is the life and health threatening conditions under which the community lives.
There are thousands of children living and working on the streets, and the number is growing in Accra. This is a result of increased urbanisation and the difficult socio-economic circumstances rural families are experiencing.
Like other children living and working on the streets, the Kayayei are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, including what may be a higher risk of exposure to HIV/Aids.
The Ghana Statistical Service estimated that approximately 27.2 percent of children aged 5 to 14 years in Ghana were working in 2001.
The report indicates that in rural areas, children can be found working in fishing, herding and as contract farm labour. Children also work as domestics, porters, hawkers, mine and quarry workers, and fare-collectors. In urban centres like Accra, street children work mainly as truck pushers, porters, and sales workers.
While some Kayayei like Tamata and Amila struggle on the streets, others like Azara Iddrisu and Sadia Abdulai, were fortunate to benefit from a lifeline project run by the Assemblies of God Relief and Development Service.
“Activities of Kayayee are very dangerous to the health and development of those involved and the nation as a whole,” says Stephen Tampuri Adongo, Deputy Director in charge of Child Rights Promotion, Department of Social Welfare.
Speaking to The Statesman, he described Kayayei as the worst form of child labour. He says his outfit is most concerned with the welfare of the Kayayei because their education, health and security are at stake.
According to him, several interventions have been put in place by government and NGOs like the Catholic Action for Street Children, Rescue Foundation, and Apple, to provide shelter, training and medical assistance.
He says the government has also introduced the Skills Training and Employment Placement programme and the Stop Kayayei Programme, which was sponsored by UNICEF in 2003 to rescue, educate and reintegrate the Kayayei into their families. The STEP programme is an innovative by the International Labour Organisation aimed at fighting social exclusion and poverty and promoting social protection worldwide. It has now been transformed into the National Youth Employment Programme.
However, due to a lack of monitoring no one is sure how effective these programmes have been.
Despite these setbacks, Mr Adongo says the government is not relenting. He mentions the conscious efforts being made by government and all stakeholders to bridge the development gap between the north and the south in order to stem the flow of migration.
The plan is to improve the infrastructure of the northern sector by providing quality education to all, hooking villages up to the water system, improving road networks, and ensuring access to electricity.
The Deputy Director also observed that the various interventions for rescue and training should be targeted at communities in the north instead of the cities. He believes programs administered to the Kayayei in Accra makes the lifestyle more attractive, and serves as an incentive to migrate to the southern sector in order to enjoy the same “good” treatment.
Mr Kuuzumi, the Chief Director of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, disclosed that the Ministry has changed its strategy in order to efficiently deal with this phenomenon.
He said to this end, the Ministry is in the process of registering all Kayayei's in the city to establish a database to help repatriate them to their various communities. He explained this is a way of making the activities of the Kayayei unattractive to those who otherwise might try the lifestyle.
He also told The Statesman the Ministry is running several training programmes in trades including hairdressing, tailoring, tie-dye and batik in order to give the Kayayei skills to live on so they can leave the streets.
The Ministry is also liaising with the various District Assemblies whose people are involved in the Kayayei phenomenon to reintegrate them back into their communities and give them the necessary skills training needed to improve upon their standard of living. This exercise he said is underway at the Agbogbloshie Market and has since it inception registered over 345 Kayayei within a period of two weeks.
Should this approach prove successful, then Tamata Rahman, Amila and others like them can go home with a smile on their face, and consider their plight in the city as history.