Observing her from afar, she looks through the passersby like a football coach selecting his potential players.
55-year-old Auntie Vero, donning a sporty jacket sits in a wheelchair somewhere at Spanner Junction, a bus stop on the 37-Madina road. Hanging on one side of her wheelchair is a blue container which serves as a receptacle of the goodwill showered on her by passersby. These are either those touched by her plight or irritated by the incessant calls by her for money.
Physically challenged, Auntie Vero begs for a living. She tells me her son, a JHS graduate and an iced water seller, would sit her at her begging point in the morning at the Spanner Junction and takes her home at sun set.
“If I mean to go home, it is just a phone call away and my son will come and take me away. He sells iced water on the streets,” Auntie Vero said.
She reveals she ended up physically challenged at the age of two, her mother had told her. A Whiteman who tried to help took her to Nsawam but the treatment was unsuccessful.
Auntie Vero would later learn a trade at the social welfare Centre. She learnt needle work and specialized in making stuffed toys. She, however, says economic factors forced her to quit establishing herself in the trade to hitting the streets to beg for a living.
“After I had made the stuffed toys, I struggled to get people to buy it in bulk from me; I couldn’t withstand the financial burden. It was then that a visually impaired woman introduced me to do begging on the streets.”
Auntie Vero is not the first and she won’t be the last in the begging business. Almost on all the streets of the capital city, Accra, one would see beggars going about their business of soliciting for money.
There are those who have found jobs helping other people to beg. At Kaneshie First Light, in Accra, Richard Oppong, a visually impaired young man sits in-between two parked saloon cars.
He tells me he hires the services of such persons. “What I do is to hire these people [one person at a time] to take me to the streets to beg. So, they will take the money and give it to me. At the end of the day, I give my assistant one-third out of the total proceeds,” says Richard.
Mr. Latif Yusuf is an Anthropology and History lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He says begging has been one prominent issue history has known off.
“The history of begging started in the Biblical period, moving down to individual countries and communities. Begging in general in recent period started [maybe] due to the breakdown of our extended family system. The extended family afforded people who are hard up to seek for help from other family members.”
Auntie Vero says she makes at most 15GHC a day out of begging. She bemoaned her benefactors giving her coins instead of paper notes.
However, the trade which Auntie Vero says does not fetch her enough money is said to be illegal. Lawyer Kwamina Mensah says begging “is actually a criminal offence in Ghana. The Beggars and Destitute Act (1969) clearly states that.”
He adds that he who encourages one to beg is him or herself guilty before the law.
If begging is an offence, why do we see children indulging in it too?
These children, basically, abandon school to hunt for monies on the streets.
Meet Mary Seidu, a class two pupil who together with her mother beg for money at the Canadian Embassy area on the 37-Madina bound road.
She says she joins her mother at the begging point whenever she closes from school. When asked why she begs, Mary said she does so because they need ‘something’ to survive on.
At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and other places such as Lapaz and around the Accra Mall area, some foreign nationals push their children onto the streets to beg. These children would hold a passerby insisting the passerby gives them money.
Right in front of me at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a young boy held the skirt of Comfort, a passerby, for money. She says these children aggressively attacking their targets is worrying.
Similarly, at around the Accra Mall another child accosted a young man for money. The man who gave his name as Nick says the situation is embarrassing.
For Comfort and Nick, they want something to be done about the situation.
The question one would like to ask is how did these foreigners come into the country and with what intention? My efforts to get the Ghana Immigration Service respond to this question yielded no results.
However, pieces of information I picked from the grounds indicate that the Ghana Immigration Service itself does not know how these foreigners got into the country.
Mr. Latif says the influx of these foreign nationals is as the result of the Sahelian drought which occurred in the 1970s-80s.
“Countries such Niger, Mali and Chad were affected forcing most people to move to other places to seek for greener pastures.
At Lapaz, I interacted with Hamid. Hamid, per my guess, will be about seven years old. He has tried hard enough to learn a little bit of the English Language.
All he could say to me in English was that he was hungry as he pointed his right hand towards his mouth. He makes gestures signaling that he want money from me.
For Mr. Bright Appiah, a Child rights advocate, he is worried over these children indulging in begging on the streets. He says they must be enrolled in school.
He says “these children [both Ghanaians and the foreigners] need to be protected.”
Mr. Benjamin Akonu Otoo is the acting director at the Department of Social Development under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.
He says his office is not in a position to cater for these children.
“It is not that we don’t see these children indulging in begging on the streets. We see them. Mostly, it is the police who have to make the arrest but you ask yourself if they arrest them, where will they take them to?”
Mr. Otoo wants the Beggars and Destitute Act reviewed.
As it stands, begging has become part and parcel of us but the question remains; must children abandon school to beg for a living? And when will the Department of Social Development be resourced enough to take these children from the streets to give them a better future?
By Solomon Mensah
The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. Views expressed here solely remains his opinion and not that of his media organization.
Email: nehust[email protected]