Daniel Awuley looks slightly 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 poorer 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, the homeless, those who take the opportunity to spend the nights in the local markets when the merchants throw the closing their business. “I think that in the coming weeks they may face a really tough situation,” he says.
The coronavirus has crept into Ghana in a more than unequivocal way (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more than 1,100 positive cases and almost a dozen deaths from covid-19, as of April 23, although the figures are outdated on a daily basis ), Y the measures to try to stop the contagion have occurred in recent weeks: entry ban for citizens of countries with more than 200 confirmed cases first, forced quarantine of 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 combat 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 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 that has been 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: most of them are dedicated to selling water, cookies or groceries in the streets, a business that disappears when the Government forces people not to leave home as other African nations have already 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 being able to earn any money,” sums up Awuley.
Some seven million Ghanaians live below the poverty line
Chance for Children has three centers spread over various cities in Ghana, serving around 100 street children every day. This number, however, does not reflect the magnitude of the problem. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report, in 2016 Ghana had about 95,000 orphaned children and this, orphanage, is one of the main reasons that lead children to live on the streets. The NGO that Awuley runs estimates that, in Ghana, there may be around 100,000 children living 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 often throughout the planet: different United Nations estimates indicate that the number of minors in the world who are homeless and who make markets or makeshift shacks their home rises to over 150 million.
One aspect that may invite optimism is that, in countries where the pandemic causes the most deaths, victims under the age of 19 are almost negligible, 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 15 years old. The middle ages of the continent, as Bill and Melinda Gates recently recalled In a letter made public since its foundation, he is close to 18 years old, although this fact does not save them from a possible illness or 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 thinks there are 10, that he will turn 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 with a lady to the city so that I could earn some money doing this, ”he recalls. The one told by the little one is a common picture in the streets of Ho, Accra and many other Ghanaian and African capitals. “After this time, my mother decided that I would come with a relative of hers here, to Tema, and it was this relative who decided that I should come to school,” he says.
Totsa speaks a couple days before the order to close schools sitting at a desk in the Dominic Savio Center, of the Italian organization Community of the Missione di Don Bosco, collaborated with the Salesian Missions, a center located in a humble neighborhood of the town of Tema New Town and destined to provide schooling to about twenty kids a year. Those who come to this center are children who left school at an early age, who live in difficult economic situations in their family environment and who have often had to work before. Children, in short, 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 (a figure that shot up to 39.5% in rural areas), and 8% of Ghanaians lived in extreme poverty, according to Unicef data.
But the new measures against the coronavirus have sent children home, a remedy that in such an impoverished family environment, with so much scarcity, can mortgage the future of thousands of minors. “I’ll give you an example: we close school for two months, from July to October, when classes start, and many of the little ones start begging. It is something relatively common in this area; since 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 European countries, where students can do homework from home during confinement. Here, if they can’t go to school, they start doing other things, not homework, ”says Nardoni.
Around 100,000 minors are homeless in Ghana
The truth is that Ghana faces a considerable problem of child labor and even slavery that can be aggravated by the consequences of the coronavirus. Different sources 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 of the country. Y extensive investigation by the humanitarian organization International Justice Mission found in 2013 that, of all of them, approximately 60% had been victims of child trafficking. This number, and also the ones that Unicef gives to figure the children working today in sub-Saharan Africa (around 48 million) and in the world (150 million) may increase more than significantly if the pandemic is replicated in Africa, where health systems are much larger precarious, where the overcrowding of the population is a common trend in both homes and workplaces, the deadly effects that 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 don’t know how all this will affect the lives of their families, but I think that many still do not understand what the seriousness of the pandemic can be,” Nardoni said. And, finally, he mentions another of those invisible problems that haunts his head these days of despair, which does not carry the name of any virus as a surname but which usually causes, at least, the same suffering and more deaths than epidemics. “At school we had lunch and I know that, for many of the children, it was their most important meal of the day.”