- “At the end of the day, I earn about GH¢10 and that is sometimes the highest. I have children to feed,” she said.
Written By Anita Ankrah - The rain fell in torrents. Many were coiled under their sheets, snoring the night away. But in the Central Business District of Accra, it is a long night for a group of young women struggling to keep plastic sheets on themselves.
Each drop of rain gave the children under the plastic sheets a wave of excitement but for their parents, it was a call to a night vigil.
This is the ordeal of head porters or ‘kayayei’ as they are commonly known. Their suffering is further compounded because people take advantage of them due to the inhumane shelters they reside in and sexually molest them. These spaces include the frontage of shops, under bridges and any open space which makes them vulnerable to illnesses and rapists.
On the streets of Tudu, 29-year-old Salamatu is surrounded by three children—one of them a product of rape. Their clothes are tattered and feet bare.
A victim of rape at the age of 19, the Basic Education Certificate holder arrived in Accra with high hopes of finding fruitful work. But 10 years later, those dreams are gradually becoming a mirage. It has been a decade of hell.
“I left the north to Accra and had no one and nowhere to stay. The streets have been my home since I was 19 years. As young as I was, I was raped countless times by men I can’t identify,” she said.
This makes it difficult for the police to deal with the perpetrators.
With almost nothing on her when she arrived, she took to sleeping at lorry parks. It was one of those moments and many other times that she was attacked in her sleep by a man or men she didn’t know who forcibly had sex with her which ended up in pregnancy.
She spent nine months of agony on the streets before giving birth. In their economic state, most of these young women are easily deceived by drivers and truck pushers who tell them they would care for them but after an affair with them, they leave them and do not fulfil their promises.
In her vulnerable state, she fell for sweet talks from a driver who got her pregnant for the second time. It happened again for the third time.
“At the end of the day, I earn about GH¢10 and that is sometimes the highest. I have children to feed,” she said.
Some victims of rape were abused by men whose proposal they had rejected, she suspected.
“I sleep at the station with my kids on the bare floor. Food is difficult to get and the sad part is I don’t know the father of one of my kids, and the one I know doesn’t care,” she said wiping tears from her eyes.
Most of the men who sleep with these young girls/women deny responsibility, leaving the task of taking care of the children on the shoulders of the poor head porters.
With their very meagre incomes, they have to cater for these children, including their education, feeding and clothing. Those who can’t afford the cost of pre-school education leave their children in the hands of their older siblings.
But there is a more worrying trend; Salamatu said there were other kayayei who aborted babies using crude methods.
“Although some succeed in aborting their pregnancies, others die in the process. That has been my fear so I had no option than to have the kids and that is why my struggle increases day by day,” she said.
“My burdens are much heavier than the loads I carry,” she said.
The task is tedious but much is not earned after a hard day.
Apart from the struggle with life on the streets, medical care is a luxury. They are unable to access medical care; they can’t afford the bills and cost of drugs.
Kayayei are like beasts of burden in our cities, but society pays little attention to them. Apart from being left out in the sharing of the national cake, they are also left to groom the next generation of young people without hope. Their date with poverty might just be endless.