We go to malls for shopping convenience. A hundred stores within walking distance of each other; you can spend a day at the mall and walk out with virtually anything you want. The Ghanaian mall is pretty similar, except it takes place at every traffic intersection, and there aren’t really stores as much as countless vendors weaving their way between cars with baskets of anything on their heads. You can do all your shopping on the way home from work; it’s a beautiful thing.
[pullquote]“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest. They need time for recreation… they learn from playing. Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”[/pullquote]
That beauty, however, is marred by one significant fact: many of these vendors are young enough to be in primary school. Kids aged as low as five are in the streets every day, selling wares ranging from water sachets to packs of gum. When I was five, I was doing a lot of things. Risking my life darting between trucks that can’t see me while simultaneously missing out on an education was not one of them.
“We’re aware that kids are being made to sell on the streets,” says Mr. Jacob Achulo, Director of Social Welfare for the Ashanti Region. “Mostly it’s their parents who push them to do it because they are poor and need money to supplement feeding. This is not right. If you are not able to look after your children, then you should not bring children into the world.”
Achulo points out that constitutionally, Ghanaian law prohibits anyone from exposing children to physical and moral dangers, both of which he says are prevalent in street vending.
“Children can be knocked down by vehicles or attacked by thieves,” says Achulo. “The girls can be lured or tricked by men into situations and then sexually abused…We are making our children to do the work of adults. Children are innocent, they don’t know. They think every adult is their mommy and daddy.”
Esther Ayariga* is in JHS1 (the equivalent of grade seven in Canada.) She sells sachet water by the Prempeh II roundabout, making about three cedis ($2 CAD) a day. Ayariga says she is often propositioned by men from their vehicles.
“They tell me that I’m beautiful or they want to marry me,” says Ayariga. “Sometimes it worries me. I told my grandmother but she tells me not to mind them.”
Ayariga says she heads to the roundabout to sell water every day after classes, always for long hours and often in overwhelming heat before returning home. There, she washes the dishes, cleans the compound where she lives, and does her homework before going to bed. This type of demanding schedule is another major concern for Social Welfare.
“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest,” says Achulo. “They need time for recreation… they learn from playing. Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”
Ayariga says she loves going to school, and hopes to follow the example of her older sister, who is a full-time student in senior high school. For now, however, Ayariga says she will continue to sell water to help out the family.
“I don’t always rush home from school to sell the water,” she laughs, “but we need the money.”
For Achulo, this is precisely the mentality that his office is trying to fight against.
“All work and no play, your child will become dull…You have decided to choose, instead of the child’s betterment in the future, you have chosen money for today.”
*name changed to protect identity