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From living on the street to working in a trade

Thousands of Ghanaian girls flee to urban hubs for work and end up on the streets, but CCFC is affecting change

By William Anim-Dankwa, CCFC communications manager, Ghana

Salamatu sits turning the handle of a manual sewing machine. She slides the cloth purposefully through her fingers — her confidence in crafting clothes for schoolgirls is growing. It has a special meaning, as the teen passed up the chance to complete school when she joined the bandwagon of girls who troop to urban centres to be “head porters” or kayayei.

A 2011 study by the People’s Dialogue and Ghana Federation of Urban Poor puts the number of kayayei at approximately 15,000, the majority of whom are drawn from the country’s north. They leave for similar reasons. “Things were difficult at home, there was not enough food, there was no money, and we were just hanging around. So when the girls from the cities came with their flashy clothes, I could not resist the temptation of joining them to work for money,” recollects Salamatu. She makes a confession: “The work did not turn out the way I anticipated.”

That work involves carrying goods for shoppers in the market for a fee. The loads are usually heavy, and the shoppers pay what they want, often cheating the porters who are between nine and 18 years old.

In the evenings the girls don’t have anywhere to go. They sleep in front of shops and anywhere they can find — even on cardboard boxes, exposed to the elements and vulnerable to abuse from boys and men. They pay to bathe, to go to the bathroom and for protection from gangs. Some are raped, some become pregnant.

In 1996, this information prompted Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) to intervene, opening an office in the north to tackle the problem. Since then, CCFC has created school infrastructure, provided training for teachers and taught community members about the importance of sending their children to school.

Skills-training centres have also opened in five key communities, providing instruction in dressmaking, hairdressing and cooking for girls. Initially, many former kayayei were set up and repatriated back to their communities, but some drifted back to the cities.

Today, the skills-training centres are drawing young porters home. Salamatu apprenticed with 16 girls at one such centre in Yong. And, CCFC has worked with Global Affairs Canada to lead more than 200 youth, including 120 girls, in a 12-week life skills-training session, so they can take care of themselves without having to move away from home. “The skills-training centre not only keeps the girls from going for the kayayo, it also prevents them from early marriages and pregnancies,” says Adam Baba, a local assemblyman.

Change is underway. None of the girls from Yong left for kayayo last year — that’s down from a high of approximately 30 girls leaving each year for the past five years.

The outlook is promising for Salamatu and her peers.

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About Christian Children's Fund of Canada:
Christian Children's Fund of Canada (CCFC) is a child-focused international development organization and a member of ChildFund Alliance. For more than 50 years, CCFC has been helping children and families of all faiths move from poverty to self-reliance. CCFC supports children and communities in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nicaragua and Paraguay. Currently, CCFC has almost 50,000 children sponsored, benefiting nearly 400,000 people around the world.