Children have been migrating from the rural areas to the cities for decades, but since the early 1990s, their numbers have been growing rapidly, and experts worry that Ghana's population of street children will explode in the coming years. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, there are currently 30,000 children living on the streets of Ghana's cities and towns. Most street children in Ghana are between the ages of 10 and 18, though there are many who are far younger. Most have been on the streets for several months or years. They leave their villages in search of money to marry or go back to school, to escape the hopelessness and poverty of many rural areas, or to build a better future for themselves. Many officials believe the growing exodus of children from the rural areas to the urban centres is linked to the breakdown of the nuclear family. When parents divorce or separate, only in a third of the cases do both parents remain in the same locality as their children. Generally, mothers take over full responsibility for the upbringing of their children. Perhaps just as serious is the problem of parental neglect, irresponsibility and indifference. Many parents do not feel obliged to take care of their children because, they believe, "God will feed them".

Many children flee their homes and go to the streets because of sexual abuse or other forms of violence. According to CAS research, 3% of Accra's street children cite sexual abuse as the main reason for being on the street, while another 3% say they left home because of regular beatings or other violence in the home. The figure may appear small or even insignificant, but in real terms, it means that about 900 of the estimated 15,000 children on the streets of Accra alone fled home because of these two reasons. There is such a taboo on these issues in Ghana that few children are willing to discuss them and even fewer to acknowledge that they were the victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Slavery is a loaded term, particularly in Africa. But, today, in Ghana, there are children who are not only being exploited, they are also being enslaved. It is difficult to get information about this contemporary form of slavery. But interviews with social workers and some former child slaves, as well as media reports, suggest that in most cases, parents in rural areas give their children to urban market women. The "madams" convince parents who cannot put their offspring through school that they can offer their children a better future. They promise to employ the children for a certain period - generally two years - and then provide them a sewing machine and vocational training or send them to school. But they rarely keep this promise: before the end of the two years, most children run away. They realise that their madam has been cheating them, or they can no longer bear the punishments and beatings the madam inflicts on them. Some children remain. They are terrified of what their madams or minders might do if they don't obey blindly. Most are so young and vulnerable that escape simply does not occur to them. When they reach adolescence and the madam can no longer exert total control over them, she turns them out to avoid having to keep her promises. Yet other children realise that there is more to life, and they run away



Fumbisi Christian Children Center. Vienna. Austria