The Rights of Children in Ghana And The Menace of Child Beggars. By Emmanuella Love Josiah-Churcher

WORLD

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world with 197 countries being signatories to the treaty. It is designed to set out the rights to be developed to help achieve the full potential of children.[1] The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination, devotion to the best interests of the child, the right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child.[2]

Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Children defines a child as, “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Begging can be defined as the activity of asking for money as charity on the street.[3] Child begging can be said to be a type of begging where persons below the ages of eighteen years are forced to beg by their parents or guardians either through physical or psychological influence/coercion. Child begging is a common abuse of the rights of children found across the world. Around 265million children are engaged in begging across the world according to recent report by the International Labour Organization published in its recent World Report on Child Labour (2013). This figure constitutes almost 17% of the world’s child population. In Bangladesh for instance, there is an estimated 700,000 child beggars found on the streets.[4]

Child begging can be said to be a form of human trafficking. In this case, children are taken from their homes by third parties with the false promise of going to school in the city but are sometimes rather made to beg on the streets by their guardians as a source of livelihood. Other times, begging is imposed by the parents or family members of the children themselves. Such is the case with migrant families across the globe. Migrant families also resort to the use of the children to raise money to cater for their needs. This is a very common occurrence on the streets of Accra, where migrants from Niger and Mali send their children to hound and harass pedestrians and drivers alike on the streets of Accra.

 

GHANA

Ghana is a signatory to the United Nations Convention in the Rights of the Child. It was the first country in the world to ratify the Convention on 5th February, 1990. However, the rights of children in the country continue to be violated on a daily basis. The Children’s Act of 1998 was enacted to protect and preserve the rights of children in the country. However, it has become a common occurrence to see children engage in the act of begging on the streets while their parents/guardians look on. In Ghana, a child is defined by Section 1 of the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) as a person below the age of eighteen years.  Section 2 of Act 560 provides that, “The best interest of the child shall be paramount in any matter concerning a child.” Furthermore, section 6 (2) provides that, “Every child has the right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education and shelter from his parents.”

WHY IS CHILD BEGGING PREVALENT IN GHANA?

Begging can be said to be a profitable venture. Most children who are forced to beg earn a lot of money for their families which is used to take care of their families. It can be said that a lot of Ghanaians are sympathetic to the plight of child beggars and support them by giving alms to them. Some of the child beggars of migrant families in an interview said that the come to Ghana during vacation to beg so that they can make enough money to go to school in their home countries. Others also said that they had earned enough money through begging to help their families build houses in their home counties. Is it right therefore to assume that these children make enough money to be able to cater for their needs as well as those of their families hence its prevalence in the country? UNICEF studies have found that begging is especially prevalent among families in which parents are incapacitated in some way, leading to children being the sole providers in the family.[5]

Another factor that is contributing to the growth of the menace of child begging in Ghana can be said to be the issue of culture. Child begging cannot be said to be a part of the Ghanaian culture; however, this is gradually becoming the norm in some parts of the country, especially the major cities. In the major cities such as Accra and Kumasi, most families have resorted to send their children out onto the streets to beg for money. Sometimes, the children are seen alone on the streets begging whereas other times, they are in the company of an adult who is usually incapacitated. For children as little as five years, there is usually an adult sitting a couple of meters away from the children supervising their activities. Also, rumor has it that the migrant families that engage in begging in the country do so because they are royalty and, in their culture, royals do not work so they would rather engage their children in begging than engage in decent work to fend for themselves.

One other factor that can be said to influence the growth of child begging in Ghana, can be said to be the political factor. According to the World Bank, forced begging is mostly found in the Middle East and West Africa where laws prohibiting begging are scarce.[6] The laws of Ghana can be said to be strictly against child abuse on “paper” as illustrated under the Children’s Act. However, the effective implementation of these laws is what the problem is.  Section 12 of the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) prohibits the exploitation of children for labour purposes as provided for under Section 87 of the same Act. Section 87(1) provides that: “No person shall engage a child in exploitative labour.” Usually, children who engage in begging are deprived of their education whereas their age mates go to school. They usually engage in their activities during the day and thus do not have the opportunity to go to school. Section 87(2) goes on to define labour as exploitative if it deprives the child of its health, education or development. The main issue at hand is that most of those who engage in this activity are foreigners who are neither refugees nor asylum-seekers. This makes it difficult for them to get aid from the UNHCR and thus they resort to begging. Sometimes, these children are trafficked from their countries with the knowledge of their parents to come and engage in begging in Ghana.[7] Therefore, although there are laws that prohibit this act, there seems to be no urgent effort made by law enforcement agencies to the perpetrators to book. This has made it a very lucrative venture in the country.

HOW CAN THIS PROBLEM BE CURTAILED?

Education, I believe, is one way in which this menace can be curtailed. Extensive education on the illegality of this practice to the general public would ensure that the public knows that the act is prohibited under the law and thus those who give to such children are aiding them in breaking the law. I also believe that educating the public and asking them to refrain from giving to these children can go a long way in curbing this menace.

Law enforcement agencies can also intensify their efforts to ensure that all the adults who engage the services of these children are duly arrested and prosecuted. Investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, in a documentary exposed the real kingpins behind this venture. In an exposé titled “Chained By Begging”, the journalist reveals that the business of child begging by foreigners in Ghana is actually a human trafficking syndicate where young children are trafficked mostly from Niger to beg in Ghana. If the law enforcement agencies such as the Immigration Service and the Ghana Police Service can intensify their efforts in ensuring that these traffickers are brought to book, then this would ensure that this menace is curbed. The government can also make provisions for the rehabilitation of these children to help usher them into the society and ensure that they are sent to school.

My general advice to us all is to stop giving money to these children to help fight this menace and ensure that the rights of these children are protected.

 

[1] http:// www.unicef.org/crc/index_protecting.html.

[2] Kohm, Lynne Marie (2009). “Suffer The Little Children: How The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child Has Not Supported Children”. New York International Law Review.

[3] Cherneva, Iveta (2011). “Human Trafficking For Begging”. Buffalo Human Rights Law Review. LexisNexis Academic: Law Reviews.

[4] Burke, Jason; Hammadi, Saad (January 9, 2011). “Bangladesh Arrest Uncovers Evidence Of Children Forced To Beg”. The Guardian. London.

[5] “Study On Street Children In Zimbabwe”. (UNICEF 2011).

[6] World Bank; “Social Development Notes: Conflict, Crime, and Violence.” (2009).

[7] See “Chained By Begging”, by Anas Aremeyaw Anas. www.youtube.com.