A Ghanaian Member of Parliament (MP) has claimed shortage of brides in parts of Northern Ghana, blaming what he calls the increasing wave of young girls migrating down south in search for menial jobs.
Alhaji Ibrahim Dey, NDC MP for Salaga, made the curious claim on the floor of Parliament on Wednesday after a colleague MP from the Minority side read a statement in which she called for an urgent national response to the endemic Kayayei menace in Ghana.
He said, “In my constituency, l can tell you that if you go there now you will not get a young girl to marry.”
His comments pressed an opposition MP, Benito Owusu-Bio, to rise with a demand that the Salaga MP be compelled by the Speaker to back his claims with empirical evidence.
But, without providing any proof, Alhaji Dey, insisted that his claims that prospective bribes are in short supply in the East Gonja District were not misleading.
He said “not less than 60%” of the young girls operating as Kayayei in the south of Ghana hail from the Salaga constituency, located in the East Gonja District of the Northern Region.
The NDC MP’s comments have come at a time of increasing concerns that some northern Ghana parents continue to force their underage female children into arranged marriages, mostly involving older men(Grooms), in defiance of Ghanain law.
There is evidence that many of the young girls migrating down south fled forced marriages, which often disrupted their education.
However, on his feet in Parliament, the Salaga MP did not cite such forced marriages as part of the factors pushing young girls to flee the safety of their homes in the north of Ghana into a life of near-servitude in southern cities.
Instead, he put the blame on endemic poverty and crippling lack of basic amenities in the north.
Later on Wednesday, the Speaker of Parliament ordered the Minister for Women, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, to appear before the House – on a date yet to be decided – to “brief” MPs about government’s plans, if any, to arrest the endemic Kayayei menace in Ghana.
Edward Doe Adjaho gave the order shortly after MPs discussed the widespread phenomenon of child head potters around the country.
“I so direct that the Business Committee should arrange for the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to come and brief the Committee of the Whole on the steps that they are taking to deal with the Kayayei issue,” the Speaker said.
The Standing Orders of Parliament define the “Committee Of the Whole” as a “committee composed of the whole body of Members of Parliament.”
Wednesday’s Parliamentary discussions followed a statement by Oforikrom MP, Elizabeth Agyemang, calling for the formation of an “emergency committee” comprising the Ministries of Water Resources Works and Housing, Education, Gender, Children and Social Protection and Local Government and Rural Development to look into the Kayayei phenomenon and take “measures to arrest the situation.” The term Kayayei is defined loosely to mean a trade mostly associated with girls and women who migrate from Northern Ghana to the Southern sector of the country to engage in tedious jobs such as carrying loads of goods on their heads or backs –– from one place to another –– for a fee.
Most of these female head porters form a unique urban poor group, regularly operating in and around lorry parks and markets in Ghana’s cities. The exact number of Kayayei operating around the country is unknown, but reports estimate that tens of thousands operate in Accra alone.
Many sleep under very tormenting conditions –– in crammed wooden kiosks, in front of stores and shops, and on city walkways. As at 1984, Ghana’s urban population stood at 30 percent of the nation’s population.
Nearly two decades later, the 2000 Population and Housing Census put Ghana’s urban population at 43.8 percent, giving credence the view that Ghana has become a hurriedly urbanizing nation. Again, the 2010 Population and Housing Census revealed that more than half of Ghana’s 24 million population now live in urban areas. Analysts have attributed part of this increase to sustained migration of women from rural areas to the nation’s urban centers.
Available records show that since the early 1980s, tens of thousands of females in the north of Ghana have been fleeing intermittent communal violence, rising rural poverty as their established source of livelihood ––– rain-fed farming ––– can no longer sustain them. Many become Kayayei, working under perilous conditions in the streets, markets, shops and restaurants. Others serve as servants in the homes of affluent city dwellers.
On her feet at Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament, opposition MP, Beatrice Agyemang, made a statement in which she highlighted the dehumanizing conditions under which young girls between the ages of seven and twelve live as Kayayei in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city after Accra.
“Mr. Speaker, in the Oforikrom Constituency alone, there are about nine thousand six hundred (9,600) of these young women and if this figure is anything to go by, we can only imagine the numbers in the other… cities” she said.
She added, “About three months ago, Mr. Speaker, I visited Dagomba Line, a suburb of my constituency, where most of these girls reside and I was stunned to the point of tears when I saw the poor conditions under which they live. “Mr. Speaker, a very sad aspect of the Kayayei business is the involvement of children aged between seven and twelve years. These children, who are of school going age, unfortunately engage in this business at the expense of their education.”
It is very disturbing, she said, seeing “girls below the age of 10 years carry such heavy loads on their heads, which many adults would not even dare. To make matters worse, they carry these loads for very long distances, some with babies at their backs, after which payment is determined by the owner of the goods”. She went on, “The manner in which the girls cross the streets with the loads on their heads and babies at their backs leaves much to be desired and it reveals some of the dangers these girls are exposed to.
Mr. Speaker, after going through such torment during the day, these girls meet their worst nightmares during the night. While some of them can afford to pay a fee of about GHC 2.00 to sleep in small kiosks, those who cannot afford are left with no choice than to sleep in the open, under market sheds or on the verandas of shops. “Not only are these girls exposed to mosquitoes, they are also at the mercy of some unscrupulous male harassers who rob them of their monies and rape them as well. Most of the rape cases result in teenage pregnancies and its related problems.”
While calling for urgent government action to tackle the Kayayei menace, Mrs. Agyemang said she believed the ongoing Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) project holds the key to stemming the Kayayei menace.
She said, “Mr. Speaker, we are all aware of the efforts of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority in developing the Northern Sector of the country. I believe that the efforts of SADA must be encouraged to enable them stem the tide on the migration of these young girls to the southern sector” Former Majority Leader Alban Bagbin, echoed the Oforikrom MP when he rose to contribute to her statement.
He said, “It is true that the SADA intervention is a serious one and should be taken seriously by the country.” He added, “I did a search in the night. I went round Accra and I saw – around the shops – many women and girls, sleeping in open places; vulnerable to marauding youth, particularly the males. It is sad that you see children taking care of children.”
Mr. Bagbin, a former Minister for Health, described the Kayayei menace “an unguided missile for the country and we need to look at it serious.”
While stating that the Kayayei problem is a “development issue” which can be blamed partly on the yawning development gap between the north and the south of the country, the Nadoli-Kaleo MP said parental irresponsibility is also partly to blame.
“…If you bring forth a child, you must be prepared to take care of the child. That is something that seems to be lacking these days.”
He proposed that the state must, henceforth, not allow irresponsible parents to continue to rail-road their innocent children into adulthood.
“The Ministry [of Gender, Children and Social Protection] should be called upon to look for the parents [of these children] and take them to task.”