Decriminalizing vagrancy laws: CCF mobilizes journalists to lead advocacy

Social Journalists Workshop
Journalists Workshop

Crime Check Foundation (CCF), a crime prevention advocacy organization is leading a campaign aimed at decriminalizing vagrancy laws in Ghana to protect the poor and homeless who are mostly victims of such laws.

A vagrant is a person who does not have a fixed abode, a means of subsistence, and who does not practise a trade or profession, according to the penal code of many African countries.

Ghana is among 22 countries that currently penalize vagrants and equip the Police with powers to enforce vagrancy laws, thereby incarcerating many poor and homeless for their inability to pay fines.

It is for this reason that the CCF is embarking on a project dubbed, “Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy Project” to create an enabling environment for vagrants to know, claim and exercise their rights to end criminalization of poverty and homelessness in Ghana.

Among other objectives, the project seeks to increase public awareness on vagrancy laws and their effects on vagrants, and also increase citizen’s capacity to monitor vagrancy laws and their effects on the poor and homeless.

Funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, the project is being implemented in 12 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) in the Greater Accra, Central and Ashanti Regions.

A day’s sensitization workshop was held for 15 selected journalists from the three regions as part of strategies to highlight the plight of vagrants through the media.

Participants are expected to champion the human rights of vagrants and other vulnerable groups and also advocate the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill which was in parliament for the past seven years.

Mr Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, the Executive Director of CCF said journalists had a key role to play in upholding the fundamental human rights of the poor and vulnerable in society.

He said the project did not in any way condone deviant behaviors on the part of vagrants, but to end the abuse of their rights as a result of negligence by the MMDAs.

He said many vagrants were imprisoned for offences such as selling and throwing rubbish at unauthorized places even though the assemblies had failed to provide designated places for such activities.

“Much as it is important that vagrants are sensitized on their rights and responsibilities, it is also important that our assemblies, mandated to ensure the provision of basic amenities to make life worth living for the vagrants live up expectation”.

He expressed concern about the imprisonment of petty offenders and implored the justice delivery system to explore the possibility of committing such offenders to community service and charged the media to push for the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law to halt the imprisonment of petty offenders.

He underlined the need for the media to interrogate the root cause of offences of vagrants to find a lasting solution instead of narrowing down on their crimes alone.

Madam Doris Bangful, a private legal practitioner said it was imperative as a nation to protect the rights of vagrants, having ratified various international human rights charters that seek to promote the rights of all citizens.

She cited the landmark Advisory Opinion delivered by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which decriminalizes petty offences by vagrants to buttress her call for Ghana to take concrete steps to stop the violation of the rights of vagrants.

She reiterated the need for the MMDAs to provide the necessary facilities to prevent vagrants from committing such offences.

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