Daniel Awuley looks a bit more concerned this week than on other days. They are days of meetings, of trying to find effective plans for the future, of trying not to leave anyone out of them. “They come from all parts of Ghana, especially from the poorest regions in the north of the country. They come because here in Accra, the capital, they have it easier to do business, to earn some money, ”he explains. Awuley is director of Chance for Children, a local NGO dedicated to the protection of children, and talks about the children who live on the streets of the city, those who are homeless, those who take the opportunity to spend the nights in the local markets when the merchants sell closing their businesses. “I think that in the coming weeks, they may face a really difficult situation,” he says.
Coronavirus has sneaked into Ghana more than unequivocally (the country has already reported more than 1,100 positive cases and almost a dozen deaths from covid-19, as of April 23, although the figures are outdated on a daily basis ), and measures to try to stop contagion have happened in recent weeks: entry ban on citizens of countries with more than 200 confirmed cases first, quarantine forced on all visitors later, order to close schools, churches and universities, ban on funerals, congresses and conferences, closure of borders and disinfection of the main markets and, finally, confinement of the cities that concentrate a greater number of population. Despite this, the country’s president, Akufo-Addo, who also promised a special plan to fight the effects of the pandemic for which he would allocate 100 million dollars, he lifted the confinement last Monday, April 20, and affirmed that this measure would help to better track positive cases of the disease.
“Children who live on the street are going to be very exposed. Some have already told us that they are afraid because of what they hear and that they think about returning to their places of origin, although many do not know if it will be possible, “continues Awuley, who fears that a confinement like the one lived in the country for three weeks, similar to that experienced in most countries where the new coronavirus ravages, becomes a double-edged sword for all these minors. On the one hand, the dangers of living without shelter, continually exposed to disease. On the other, their inability to earn money: the majority is dedicated to selling water, cookies or groceries on the streets, a business that disappears when the Government forces people not to leave home as other African nations have done, such as South Africa, Rwanda or Zimbabwe. “They work in the so-called informal sector and they are definitely going to suffer a lot without even a chance to earn any money,” summarizes Awuley.
Chance for Children has three centers spread across various cities in Ghana, serving 100 street children daily. This number, however, does not reflect the magnitude of the problem. According to the Unicef State of the World’s Children reportIn 2016 Ghana had about 95,000 orphaned children and this, the orphanage, is one of the main reasons that lead children to live on the street. The NGO led by Awuley estimates that, in Ghana, there may be around 100,000 children who lived on the streets of their country before the pandemic, figure that has been corroborated by different means. It is a phenomenon that, in reality, is repeated too frequently throughout the planet: different United Nations estimates they indicate that the number of minors in the world who are homeless and who make markets or makeshift shacks their home rises above 150 million.
One of the aspects that can invite optimism is that, in countries where the pandemic causes the most deaths, victims under the age of 19 are almost insignificant, and Ghana, like other nations in sub-Saharan Africa, presents a fairly young population pyramid: Almost 40% of Ghanaian citizens, a country with just over 28 million inhabitants, are under the age of 15. The average age of the continent, as Bill and Melinda Gates recently remembered in a letter made public since its foundation, it borders on the 18 years, although this fact does not save them from a possible disease nor from its more immediate indirect consequences.
Condemned to work
Totsa Totsa says that he does not know how old he is, that it is impossible for him to know. He believes they are 10, that he will be 11 next summer, although there may be some more. “Before studying here, I spent about three years selling soap on the streets in Ho, the capital of the Volta region. I lived with my mother in a town, but she sent me to the city with a lady to earn some money doing this, “he recalls. The one that the little one tells is a common picture on the streets of Ho, Accra and many other Ghanaian and African capitals. “After this time, my mother decided that I should come with a relative of hers here, to Tema, and it was this family member who decided that I should come to school,” she says.
Totsa speaks a couple of days before the order to close schools sitting at a desk in the Dominic Savio Center, of the Italian organization Comunita della Missione di Don Bosco, collaborated with the Salesian Missions, a center located in a humble neighborhood in the town of Tema New Town and destined to provide schooling for around twenty kids a year. Those who come to this center are children who dropped out of school at an early age, who live difficult economic situations in their family environment and who have often had to work before. Ultimately, children who add to those statistics that nobody wants to be part of, not even in Ghana. Almost 24% of the population in this nation lived below the poverty line in 2017 (figure that shot up to 39.5% in rural areas), and 8% of Ghanaians did so in extreme poverty, according to Unicef data.
But new measures against the coronavirus have sent children home, a remedy that in such an impoverished, scarce family environment can mortgage the future of thousands of children. “I will give you an example: we close the school for two months, from July to October, when classes begin, and many of the little ones start to beg. It is relatively common in this area; As they have nothing to do, the kids ask for and get money to help their family, “explains Moira Nardoni, coordinator of the Salesian project in Tema. “This is not like in the countries of Europe, that the students can do homework during the confinement. Here, if they can’t go to school, they start doing other things, not homework, “says Nardoni.
The truth is that Ghana faces a problem of child labor and even slavery of considerable dimensions that can be aggravated by the consequences of the coronavirus. Different sources they indicate that around 50,000 children worked alone in Lake Volta (the largest reservoir in the world with about 8,500 square kilometers), one of the most dynamic areas in the country. AND an extensive investigation by the humanitarian organization International Justice Mission showed in 2013 that, of all of them, approximately 60% had been a victim of child trafficking. This number, and also those given by Unicef to encrypt children working today in sub-Saharan Africa (around 48 million) and in the world (150 million) can increase more than significantly if the pandemic is replicated in Africa, where health systems are much more precarious, where the overcrowding of the population is the usual trend both in homes and in workplaces, the deadly effects it leaves in other countries such as Italy, Spain or France. In fact, the latest data does not paint a hopeful future: the continent already has around 21,000 positive cases and more than 1,200 deaths.
“I do not know how all this will affect the lives of their families, but I think that many still do not understand what the severity of the pandemic may be,” said Nardoni. And, finally, he mentions another one of those invisible problems that hangs over his head these days of despair, which does not bear the name of any virus but that usually causes, at least, the same suffering and more deaths than epidemics. “At school we had a lunch and I know that for many of the children it was their most important meal of the day.”
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