Kayaye Girls Share Their ‘Unheard’ Pain on Camera With Us

In the field of child development, internal migration, particularly in rural-urban areas like Ashaiman, Zenu, Kpone has generally been regarded with considerable pessimism. Starting in the late 1950s-to date rural-urban migration has attracted substantial attention from both academia, government and policy makers. The attention has, however, not yielded positive results.

Streetism connotes negativism but has still contributed to perceptions of migrants from rural areas flooding the major cities putting stress on urban services and infrastructure.

This view was further bolstered by the argument that migration has affected the economy of its more skilled and innovative individuals, thus, stunting the progress of the growth and poverty reduction that was expected to be achieved.

The challenging part of streetism is the flooding of young girls between the ages of eight and 15 on the major cities of Ashaiman.

Walking down the streets of Ashaiman, Zenue, Kpone, one will be shocked at the number of young girls posing as street hawkers and beggars.

Some work as ‘Kayaye’ (head porter) during daybreak. Most of these children mostly migrate from the Northern part of Ghana. What is more shocking is the very deplorable state that these girls live as well as their day-to-day ordeals. These children are mostly found sleeping on tables, verandas, shed erected by them or are permitted to stay by the owners of the shops.

A more disturbing fact is that, a number of the boys are engaged in social vices like stealing, smoking among others. The females are raped each day because of the nature of the dwelling places. Imagine a child of about 10 years sleeping on the shores of Russia (a town at Ashaiman). She can be raped because the young boys are into drugs. Some children seek refuge from security men at night; others form alliance with male counterparts for protection who have sole right to have sex with them.

‘Kayaye’ is popular among the ‘Northern girl’ to the extent that it is becoming a profession. It is not new to the Ghanaian populace yet little has been done to fix this canker. What beats the mind of people is why these young girls leave their native homes to do these bizarre jobs in unfavourable conditions.

In an interaction with a 12-year-old child, who is into ‘kayaye’, she explained that there is money in the business as it fetches one with a daily income without depending on people for survival. According to the child, she left her home in the North due to the brutal abuse of her stepmother. To save her life, she joined few friends who were coming to Accra for a job. She said in the night it is one trouble or the other – rape attempts, drugs prevalence and stealing of her hard earned money.

The drive to search for alternative sources of livelihood makes most of these young girls migrate to the south to engage in ‘kayaye’. While some decide to go on their own accord, others are forced to move by their parents as they see a neighbour’s daughter come back at Christmas with goodies or items.

Hitherto, most parents in a bid to look for alternatives means of livelihood for themselves and their teenage girls turn to give their children out for early marriage at a tender age. With society frowning on this teenage marriage practice, the trend has gradually shifted to forcing these teenage girls into ‘kayaye’ and sex workers. It is evident that some of these girls run from homes because they had been betrothed and given off early into marriage.

While some blame the cause of this great trek on families, others dwell on the poverty levels of the people in the Northern parts of Ghana; Upper West, Upper East and North. It is a generally upheld view that these three northern regions have some of the most deprived and poverty-stricken areas in Ghana. This leads to the migration of the youth to look for alternative opportunities to make it in life. Due to the undesirable poverty levels, some youngsters after completing JHS and SHS migrate to Accra in a bid to work and finance their education. Majority of the people end up being ‘kayaye’, sex workers in and around Zenue, Ashaiman, Russia and others.

In Ghana, rising female migration from rural communities in the north of the country has been viewed in a largely negative light and the policy response has been to discourage women in these communities from migrating. However, can this one alone be the only panacea to discouraging the existence of ‘kayaye’ in our major cities? A lot depends on governmental institutions and civil society groups to chart a new path.

The Northern part of Ghana needs to be given a new facelift to create more jobs, for not only young girls but their male counterparts as well. Bridging the North-South gap in terms of development should be primus inter pares.

The then Savannah Accelerated Development Authority was a bold step being taken by the Government of Ghana to bridge this gap.

Further, agriculture the main means of sustenance in the North needs to be improved. Irrigation agriculture should be a prime focus of government in order to ensure all year cultivation. This will in essence go a long way to increase agricultural productivity as well as curb the seasonal unemployment both of which are push factors of teenage migration in the North.

Besides, there are countless NGOs in the Northern part of Ghana. The Capital city of Northern Region – Tamale has been dubbed the NGO hub. Is it that the NGOs are not working or they are not locating the main issue in the Community? What about the aspects of women empowerment, which is a core line in their mission and vision statement of their NGO? It is high time efforts are channeled towards addressing this menace in the Community.

This involves government, all NGOs, Civil groups, traditional leaders to halt this canker-eating deep into the fabric of our country.

Alternative job opportunities for livelihood creation should be the central focus of the government and NGOs than the resilience farming. More jobs can be created in the North that will engage the services of the youth. A school of thought is of the opinion that dormitories should be built in the cities as homes for the ‘kayaye’. This will ultimately lead to the increase of ‘kayaye’ and migration. Governments, NGOs, Policy makers should channel their effort to addressing the socio-economic push rather than proposing measures that will fuel ‘kayayo.’

In Ghana, the migration of women from the north of the country to engage in ‘kayayo’ is seen in a negative light not only by the general populace but also by government officials and non-governmental organisations.

Supported by: Rose Service Learning Fellowship, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health