Tackling the Issue of Street Children in Our Community
The issue of street children among Ghanaians both in Ghana and in Canada, especially in the cities of Kumasi, Accra and Toronto continues to raise many questions. For example, are the education systems (in Ghana and Ontario) not inclusive enough? Are Ghanaian youth in Toronto exploiting the social system of the province to their detriment? Could it be that the children are facing cultural dilemma in their new country of abode? Or, are parents and guardians miserably failing in their duty of providing the needed support to the children? Perhaps, the society is not caring enough!
In whichever direction one points the "accusing fingers" the Ghanaian News is of the opinion that the problem of street children among Ghanaians both in Ghana and elsewhere deserves our attention. News reports of children selling dog-chains in the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Sunyani, to mention a few cities in Ghana and, that of gun violence in Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal involving some Ghanaian youth are very disturbing. The future of our community is seriously threatened by this phenomenon. Therefore, there is the need to take action to redress the situation.
Africans have an adage that says, "it takes the whole community to raise up a child." Undoubtedly, children are our heritage and it is the responsibility of us as adults to identify, talk about and take action on any factors that put our youth "at risk".
According to the National Crime Prevention Council of Canada (1997), "risk are 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."
There are many groups of "youth at risk". Among these is the marginalized group of street youth, which includes the voluntary, the homeless and the mentally ill.
The voluntary group supposedly comprises of children who have chosen to be on the street as a way of life. Unfortunately, the police, schools and most social work agencies in Ghana have viewed all street children in the country as belonging to this category. Their policies and practices toward the street children have therefore often worsened the life situation of the street child in Ghana. More disturbing is the position the community has adopted toward street children in Ghana. People hold the voluntaristic explanation that this population of the "youth at risk" are on the street largely by choice. The street children are regarded as good-for-nothing kids in the community. They are called derogating names like kuboro and asan in Ghanaian language.
About ninety-five percent (95%) of street children come under the category of homeless. In Ghana, many street youth between the ages of 12 and 20 are without homes to turn in during the night. They sleep in front of stores and in abandoned motor vehicles. These youth have traveled from the countryside mainly to fend for themselves in the cities and urban towns due to lack of family support. Poverty or economic dislocation has driven them from their homes. Unfortunately, some single mothers have even encouraged their teen daughters to go to the streets to make ends meet. Such vulnerable young girls have landed in prostitution and have become homeless, hanging around with pimps whose help is nothing more than exploitation of the children.
Male street children often engage in street trading. Other constitute cheap labour for market women who hire these children to cart their goods to and from the market places. There is among this group a handful of school dropouts. The remaining four percent (4%) of children roaming the street are mentally ill outpatients. Cut off of funds to Ghana's asylums at Pantang and Ankaful have led to the inability of these institutions for the mentally ill to cope with increasing number of cases that come to them. Unfortunately, some youth are among these numbers though not alarming for this population of "at risk". The ever-increasing numbers of homeless street children in the cities of both Canada and Ghana pose a big question that ought to be considered carefully by those who bring intervention programs to this population of "at risk". Where have they come from, and why?
The Ghanaian News think that the roots of homelessness could be traced to structured factors, which are social arrangements and trends that affect the probability that specific events or life trajectories will be experienced. One set of such factors concerns the scope and sources of residential dislocation. The other set concerns the nature and sources of economic dislocation. As much as we agree with the argument that residential dislocation is one of the main causes of homelessness in general, we would also contend that it could not be considered on the same degree for homeless street children. Many street children have found "safety" in the streets not because they have no houses or homes to return to. Instead, they have either suffered abuse by adults in the homes or suffered lack of family support. The former is true in most cases of street youth in Canada while the latter is equally true for majority of street children in Ghana.
The embattled argument that some youth have chosen to go against their parents' advice and live in the streets is not sufficient to negate that factor that society and many parents/adults are mostly to blame for pushing our youth onto the streets.
It could be argued that Africans being the latest immigrants to Canada are facing the problem of adjustment. The raising of the African Youth in the apparent emergence of two (2) cultures has become an issue of major concern to the whole African community in Canada, especially in the city of Toronto. However, it is also an undeniable fact that many African/Ghanaian families in Canada are breaking down and children are being compelled to fight and struggle for their own survival. Family violence and divorce are on the increase among Ghanaian-Canadians.
Emotional and "physical" abuse of children and spouses as well as neglect of children (especially, their educational needs) are becoming chronic problems in the community.
It is suggested that parents should put their 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. Also, it is unfortunate that there is very little or on support from the community to individuals, families and our youth. Though some Ghanaian community churches are trying to meet such needs in organizing family and youth programs/seminars their efforts are not enough. All churches and cultural associations must pay the needed attention to supporting our youth. It could be argued in some circles that our youth exploit the laws of Canada to their own detriment (e.g. leaving home early to depend on government welfare; lying about their parents to government authorities; and dropping out of school due to non-inclusive education system in Canada) and find themselves roaming the street eventually, most youth are pushed onto the street by the negligence of their parents and the community at large.
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.