The initial idea of a western-style lockdown as a measure of containing the COVID-19 pandemic was proposed, it divided opinions immediately.
This type of lockdown has proven to be a saviour in several western societies struggling with the disease hence the question was “Why would anyone fight the only known remedy for a disease which is proving to be a formidable opponent to the modern world?”
Bear in mind that this disease has no cure and no known vaccine hence the only known effective preventive measure is social distancing which takes the form of residents of communities sticking to their immediate home environment.
The critics to the implementation of this western-style lockdown in Ghana pointed to one issue, which is the country’s housing challenge especially in its urban areas where the disease was first detected, namely Accra and Kumasi. Accra houses the only international airport in the country and remains the only route into Ghana for persons flying in from outside the jurisdiction. It was therefore not surprising that Accra recorded the first case.
“How do you lockdown Accra and Kumasi with the huge numbers of people living in the street?” was the only question raised by critics.
These numbers include persons living in makeshift structures built on lands that they do not own or slums. It will also include those who have sleeping arrangements but no living arrangements.
The key question that confronted the government was how to find decent accommodation for these people who live in the streets before instituting a total lockdown. It was therefore not surprising when the government took the option of a partial lockdown. Even the partial lockdown was not enough to convince the residents who live on the streets to stay. Hundreds of them in steady numbers departed Accra and Kumasi for their few hours after the announcement. So desperate were some of them to leave Accra that a group of young ladies from the North agreed to be transported in a cargo truck on the Monday that the restrictions kicked in.
A group that has not been factored into this discussion is the huge population of children on the streets engaging in all kinds of menial labour and in most cases, begging. These children encounter both the rich and poor and then interact with their parents/guardians who in some cases live on the streets themselves.
It is assumed that these group will be forced into lockdown with their parents or accompanied back to the rural areas during the rush out of Accra we witnessed. One thing for sure is that we have not yet talked about them in the entire COVID-19 debate because not all children on Accra’s streets have some form of guardianship. There are several of them who have no form of guardianship.
The issue of street children is not new but needs to be re-emphasised for the sake of the efficiency of the fight against this pandemic. It is important that we identify the minefields in this fight and address them properly if we are to succeed and I believe street children are one.
The concept of Street Children
The Double-Tongue Dictionary describes the term “Streetism” as the living of homeless or unmonitored children on the street, especially when related to drugs, disease, juvenile sex, crime, or delinquency.
It is a broad term used to present the desperate and often tormenting situation of children who are forced to spend most of their lives outside their homes, engaging in menial income-generating activities and begging in order to make a living…Or, often having to brace unpredictable odds of a cruel weather to sleep rough on the streets.
UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for this area defines children as those under the age of 18.
The key attribute of street children is the lack of monitoring that is evident when you encounter them on the street exposing them to a lot of social vices. Delinquency is rife among street children because of their exposure to bad role models and criminal characters.