Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has launched a project to protect the rights of vagrants. Vagrants are persons who engage in petty economic activities for their survival. They include the homeless, street vendors, head porters, truck pushers, market women, drivers, among others. Due to poverty and ignorance, these persons get into conflict with the laws relating to sanitation, for instance. They are then arrested, fined or jailed when they fail to pay the fines imposed by the courts due to their poverty.
The project dubbed ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy” seeks to fight against the criminalization of poverty by creating an enabling environment for vagrants to know, claim and exercise their rights and responsibilities in Ghana. Specifically, the project will increase public awareness, monitoring and engagements on vagrancy laws which tend to disproportionately affect vagrants as opposed to specific reprehensible acts. The intervention is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)
The launch, which was held on Friday, 28th May, 2021 in Accra, was attended by Her Ladyship Justice Sophia Rosetta Bernasko Essah, a Justice of the Court of Appeals who represented the Judicial Service and the Chief Justice of Ghana. Other state institutions that participated included the Ghana Prisons Service, Ghana Police Service, MMDAs and other Justice Sector Institutions of Ghana.
Speaking at the launch, the Executive Director of CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng appealed to the MMDAs to check the activities of their taskforce who in their efforts to enforce the bye-laws tend to assault vagrants for violating the laws. He said the behavior of vagrants who breach laws often stems from the neglect of the responsibility of the local authorities to provide amenities to create a conducive environment for their residents. According to him, “we want to appeal to the Assemblies to rein in on their taskforce to desist from assaulting vagrants who break the law. The success we all crave for can only be achieved through the collective efforts and collaboration of all. We believe this launch marks the beginning of an important journey in this regard”, He said.
Mr Kwarteng who doubles as the Ambassador Extraordinaire of Ghana Prisons, intimated that jailing poor individuals who violate the law for their inability to pay court fines indicates that “Ghana’s justice delivery system appears to affect the poor who constitute the majority of citizens who are caught on the wrong side of the law.”
He indicated that the partnership is consistent with a ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights following an application by the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), that vagrancy laws contravene international human rights instruments.
The CCF-OSIWA intervention is a one-year project which will run from May 2021 to May 2022. It is being implemented in twelve (12) Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies in Greater Accra, Ashanti and Central Regions.