Adeeza is 15 years old. Her family traveled to Accra about two months ago from Niger. Her mother tells her she should not speak with me and my colleague but she goes on telling her story. They left their village– where she says they lived comfortably– at six o’clock in the morning one day and arrived in Accra at one in the afternoon the next day. It was her older sister who said they could find a better life in Ghana, one of the most stable countries in the region. Instead, she and her siblings beg for money from dawn until dusk.
Adeeza does not go to school but she does read the Koran every day at a local mosque. Her dream is to become a successful businesswoman.
She is one of the Fulani children of Accra.
They are a common site in Ghana’s capital. Children as young as five beg for food or money as their parents observe from the wayside sitting idly.
They are members of a nomadic ethnic group spread out throughout West Africa that elicits both pity and scorn from the locals. While most enter the country illegally, Ghana’s government does not have sufficient resources to deport them in large numbers or provide services for the children.
“We don’t have the human resources to do our work well,” says Mariama Yayah, the director of Ghana’s Department of Children. Yayah says that as a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child Ghana has a duty to protect the Fulani children from discrimination whether they hold Ghanaian citizenship or not.
Every day Fulani children are a visible part of Accra’s street life as they weave their way through dangerous traffic begging for money or selling small goods to help support their families.
Aisha, a six year-old Fulani girl my colleague Berlinda met one evening, still had to collect 50 Ghanaian pesewas from strangers before she would be allowed to end her day of begging for change in the hot West African sun.
Daniel Asare Korang, the programs manager for the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Accra, says he has seen no action from Ghana’s government to assist the Fulani people. “I don’t think there has been any deliberate effort targeted at these people to incorporate them or improve their standard of living,” he says.
Korang says the issue is complicated when the Fulani come from countries that are not part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “If you are part of the ECOWAS community then you have right to establishment,” he tells me. Once a person from any country has lived in Ghana for 10 years, they gain Ghanaian status and are privy to all the rights that come with citizenship.
Still, Yayah says it is one thing to recognize those rights on paper, but quite another to defend them on the streets of Accra. “When it comes to implementation and enforcement [of social services] that’s where the problem is,” she says.
As many Ghanaian citizens live in abject poverty, the social and economic condition of foreigners does not make it very high up the list of priorities. The government’s resources are limited when it comes to most of the services people depend on every day. Setting funds aside for social protection system is a difficult task, as Yayah puts it.
Children like Aisha and Adeeza don’t have the opportunity to go to school because they must provide for their families. It’s a cruel irony that by working to help feed their families today they may very well be sabotaging the only chance they have to break free of the cycle of poverty.