1 January 2013

Tanzania: Children's Welfare Not Addressed Fully

PARENTS have every reason to celebrate; the end of 2012 saw the arrival of two highly potent vaccines that are designed to save the lives of children under five years of age.

The government introduced at year-end an antipneumonia vaccine known as Pneumococcal. Pneumonia is such a notorious, surefooted child killer. In some cases the disease kills in a matter of hours.

The State also shunted at the end of 2012 an anti-diarrhoea vaccine known as Rotavirus in the parlance of the medical world. The latest vaccine arrivals also block the onslaught of Hepatitis B and measles.

A comprehensive nationwide vaccination campaign against childhood illnesses takes off this month (January 2013). So, more young lives will be saved starting 2013. The campaign has been affectionately christened, "Reaching Every Child Approach."

Indeed, this is a wholehearted initiative towards saving children's lives. Pneumonia, diarrhea, Hepatitis B and measles are notorious child killers in this country, apart from malaria which is rated as the most dangerous.

Statistics on childhood deaths are hard to come by in this country but the figure could be staggering. Each year, some 1.7 million children worldwide die from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines, according to UNICEF. Children who are immunized are protected from these dangerous diseases, which often lead to disability or death. In Tanzania, thousands of children go into early graves despite government efforts to minimize the death toll among infants.

The disturbing fact is that their parents are ignorant about the benefit of immunization. So, it imperative to point out here, that immunization is a right for every child. It is on record that some parents, especially in rural Tanzania, do not ensure that their children are immunized fully. Partial immunization is wrong. It is an abuse. Medical workers say most mothers do not take their infants to medical centres for follow-up vaccines after the initial jab that is given several hours after birth.

It is essential that infants complete the full number of jabs - otherwise the vaccines may not work. In some countries, additional vaccine doses, called booster shots, are offered after the first year of life. These shots make the vaccine protection even more effective. Immunization protects children against some of the most dangerous diseases of childhood.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child has this to say in Article 5: "Every child has an inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law." Article 14 stipulates in part that: "Every child shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health." Tanzania is a signatory to the Charter. Older children have their won set of predicaments in this country.

While some enjoy a happy childhood and reach full potential at adulthood, others languish in poverty and social deprivation. The nation has a growing number of street children who are often harassed, exploited and even sexually assaulted by security agents including members of the Police Force. A research made in 1998 shows that there are about 4,500 street children in Dar es Salaam.

It is a stark fact that nearly 80 per cent of rural families are, invariably, deficient on money and food. Naturally, in such a situation it is the children who suffer most. Poverty levels have reached an alarming proportion especially in the central and southern regions. This prompts children to migrate to towns and cities in search of better livelihoods. In some cases some poor parents push their children into virtual slavery and prostitution.

So, it is abject poverty that eventually drives destitute children into prostitution or into the labour market where ruthless employers offer them high-risk jobs. Child prostitution in this country may not be pronounced but it exists. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is a growing problem in most urban areas in Tanzania due to acute poverty, a research commissioned by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has shown.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also reported that last year it influenced the withdrawal of about 1,500 children from hazardous child labour. Some of these children had been slogging it out for a living in Urambo tobacco farms in Tabora Region. Working side by side with government authorities and non-governmental organizations that have their hearts in the welfare of children, the ILO also helped provide relevant educational opportunities to socially disadvantaged children.

The ILO also recommended the removal from the worst forms of labour of all children working in tobacco farms. It would be remiss on our part not to mention here that the ILO has done a wonderful job by helping curtail or prevent child labour in tobacco farms. It is also evident that harsh economic conditions drive children out of schools. Often young children and especially girls discover that they have little prospects for survival after dropping out of school.

Some indulge in prostitution. In some cases, dire poverty prompts some parents to virtually "sell" their daughters into sexual exploitation or give them away in unwanted marriage in exchange for a dowry. There are also increasing reports of children being trafficked. Many children are moved from rural Tanzania to urban areas because of the belief that they (the girls) are free from /HIVAIDS.

Furthermore, sexual abuse of child domestic workers is increasing. Prostitution has existed in every society for which there are written records. For a long period in history, women had only three options for economic survival: getting married, becoming a nun or becoming a prostitute. In the case of Tanzania, prostitution is regarded as the "choice left for divorced women and widows with no male children.

Several Wahaya women, who were interviewed in Bugabo Village in 1975, said prostitution was a way to "economic independence." And there are children who indulge in prostitution following pressure from older prostitutes. A journalist wrote in "Kiongozi" newspaper in 1961 that prostitution was a result of parents forcing their daughters into it (prostitution) for economic gain.

This argument is valid if the Wasukuma, Wanyamwezi, Wakurya and Wajita systems of marriage where a dowry has to be paid in the form of cows to enrich the parents, or to get a dowry for the boys in the case of poor parents who have many sons. In the Wahaya tribe, parents were found responsible for advising married girls to run away from their husbands and go to towns to work as prostitutes, then to send money to the parents in order to bring wealth or support to the poor families in rural areas.

The above reasons are not the only factors to explain the increase of prostitution in Tanzania. There are others such as the breaking up of marriages which has led to the absence of parental guidance and counseling to daughters. When entering puberty, most girls find themselves indulging blindly in sexual activity. The outcome of the blind sexual practices is hazardous.

Girls become pregnant prematurely and out of wedlock, the ILO/IPEC report says. Besides, children born to underage mothers are regarded as outcasts by most societies in Tanzania -- as are their mothers. In most tribal settings in Tanzania, children born of wedlock were rejected. In previous years, the Wamasai and Wahaya, for instance, imposed severe punishments on girls who became pregnant out of wedlock.

Punishments included being tied up with heavy stones on the neck until the victim died. The corpse was then thrown into the river where it was either eaten by crocodiles or deposited on the river banks and left to rot. To overcome severe treatment, girls found a way of avoiding such punishments. They escaped to urban areas where they discovered that life, unfortunately, was also difficult.

Again, the only way left to survive was prostitution. This gave them quick money but sometimes they ended up in violence and hostilities. Some girls even came into conflict with the law. Parents, who were not so cruel as to impose such a punishment on their child, still would ask their daughters to leave their homes. They sought refuge in cities and towns with their minds on job opportunities.

However, they found no paying jobs. Consequently, they fell into prostitution. The number of girls and women in prostitution continues to grow year in year out. In Dar es Salaam City, a research made in 1998 showed that there was an increasing number of children engaged in prostitution. The reason for the increase hinged on social, economic and cultural difficulties. Another reason is the cultural belief that elderly men can take good care of girls.

Girls aged between 12 and 16 years dropped out of school because their parents wanted dowry. Some were forced by their parents to marry elderly men.However, some of the young girls who are married off to elderly men fail to respect their marriage. The marriage fails to work and the "young wives" run off with younger men or leave for cities and towns. This leads to divorce.

In most tribal settings divorced women cannot remarry easily -- particularly those who are forced to leave their marriage with their children. Young men see them as second- hand material and their families see them as a burden. Given these circumstances, divorced young mothers resort to prostitution for livelihood and sexual satisfaction. There is limited statistical data and reliable information on the nature and extent of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Tanzania.

This is due to lack of research on the issue, and more importantly, a cultural inhibition that makes CSEC related issues a taboo. Available information so far indicates that child prostitution exists in various forms and that it is growing. Tourism, poverty and the growing number of street children in the urban areas have led to this increase. In most instances, child prostitution is hidden and in some cases it is disguised as early or forced marriages or as child abuse.

Sexual exploitation is sometimes so demeaning that some children exchange sex in return for protection or special favours. Girls as young as nine are sexually exploited. Sex tourists are increasingly seeking children. In 1996 a researcher documented more than 800 under- age prostitutes in Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Singida. Child abuse in Tanzania is on the rise although it is still a clandestine matter.

As mentioned earlier, children as young as seven are trafficked from rural Tanzania to urban areas. They go to work as domestic helps for prosperous families as cheap labour. Most of these girls come from Singida, Morogoro, Dodoma and Iringa. Others move to Dar es Salaam from Coast Region to Dar es Salaam. According to End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT), about 90% of girls aged between seven and 17 years from Kwamtoro (Dodoma) and Kidabaga (Iringa). M ost of them immigrated to Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Mwanza.

These trafficking victims were subjected to harsh living and working conditions. "These children were very vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, the ILO/IPEC report says. In many cases girls engaged as domestic helpers are abused by their employers and in the event of pregnancy, they are ejected from the house. Many lack support and with few possibilities to return to the native village, they often become victims of CSEC.

Apparently there are no national plans at stake to address the problem of children in prostitution in Tanzania, nor is there a law prohibiting these practices. As a result, most of the children who have been found in the streets engaging in prostitution have been taken as loiterers. The government, however, has been positive in terms of creating an enabling environment in policy and practical terms for international funding as well as for the few NGOs that are striving to address the problem of disadvantaged children.

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