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22.12.2004 Regional News

Grim start for Accra's street babies

By Alexandra Frean for TimesOnline

Accra -- You can hear the wailing and crying long before you arrive at the shanty town crèche run by Amina Karima in Accra, but nothing prepares you for it: 27 babies are crowded into a filthy, dark, stinking and airless wooden shack.

Faeces and urine slop over the floor. A pot of grey porridge cooks on an open fire. Flies are everywhere. Most of the children are naked and many look malnourished or sick, their bodies covered with blisters and sores. Those too weak to cry stare listlessly into space. Mrs Karima, a mother of eight and grandmother of four, runs one of many informal crèches in the Ghanaian capital.

They have sprung up to meet demand from the growing number of young street girls in Accra who give birth in the slums. Unable to find work as market porters or hawkers with their babies on their backs, they leave their children with grandmothers such as Mrs Karima from 6am to 4.30pm, seven days a week, while they work.

On a good day the girls earn 10,000 cedis (60p), enough to pay Mrs Karima's daily childminding fee of 1,000 cedis and to pay for food and, with luck, shelter for themselves at night. Mrs Karima cares for 30 children a day, although on the day The Times visits she has not counted them. She does not notice when one crawls out and heads down the alleyway. “I do activities like singing with them,” she says feebly. “I love the children but this is hard work.” Her only helper is Amatu, her 12-year-old daughter.

With around 6,000 babies born on the street to homeless girls in Accra, the granny-minder business is booming. But it is hard to imagine a worse beginning in life for the little ones. Now hope is at hand. Four well-equipped and fully staffed childcare centres have opened in purpose-built premises, funded by Street Girls Aid (S.AID), a local charity. The nurseries, which each take 120 children under 6, provide a clean, safe and stimulating environment where the youngsters learn basic English and maths and get three meals a day.

Supported by the British charity Street Child Africa, S.AID now plans to open a fifth crèche in Accra. Street Child Africa is one of three charities supported by The Times Christmas Appeal this year. With your donation it can help to make sure that Accra's street babies get a better start in life.

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