27 January 2013

Tanzania: Despite Accusations, Women Still Bear the Brunt of Raising Children

MINISTER for Community Development, Gender and Children Ms Sophia Simba made a point this week while on tour in Morogoro Region as she spoke with local residents.

The minister told her hosts that a team of researchers in the ministry had done a research on child abuse and established that women are the worst enemies of children when compared with men. "Women cane their children. They give them little or no food while serving the nicer part of the meal to their husbands. Sometimes they inflict harm to children using burning objects," said the minister.

She implored women to love their children and respect their rights. Surely, women who attended the minister's rally must have felt ashamed for that portrayal which depicts them as rogues, while society expects them to be loving and caring. While the minister's address sounded a little intriguing, to many, this was not a shocking revelation. We've read or heard about the worst forms of child labour and torture.

I, for one, have even spoken to street children who have candidly opened up and told me about the reasons behind their flight from home. Broken marriages contribute a lot to children's unhappiness. Quite often we read harrowing stories about a woman who confined her child or step child into solitude and denied her essential basics including food.

This week, there is a story from Iringa about a child who perished in a fire while its mother was busy washing linen outside the burning house! We have even heard of women who dumped their babies soon after delivery, others in pit latrines and sometimes teenagers just wrapped their babies with polythene bags popularly known as rambo and abandoned then in a bush.

Yet, I tend to believe that the ministry's child abuse report which hammers the nail on the woman as the main wrong-doer raises more questions than answers. It looks like the report was more of a deliberate attempt to absolve men from being perpetrators of child abuse and giving them a justification to distance themselves from obligatory role of parenting.

Why, if I may ask, is the husband ready to eat the nicest part of the meal without questioning his wife on the portion served to children? How can father satisfy his tummy before letting his children do it first? Human greed and selfishness have deep roots in our cultures.

Men will forgive me for being blunt, but in many tribes, this practice is customary. If the wife did nor abide by customs, she risks being battered. How many times do we read stories of women being beaten and even killed for not serving their husbands with a nice ugali and beans supper? There is no doubt that a child can be beaten more often by its mother than father because the woman is closer to the children.

She is the one watching them as they grow up and takes immediate action as things unfold. I believe women who thrash their children do it for the sake of disciplining them and not otherwise. In school, children often get caned as normal routine when they make a mistake.

The teachers are not being cruel to them are they? In the previous studies done by various organizations including the International Labour Organisation, World Vision and UNICEF, over eight million school-age children in Tanzania are not in class and are involve in worst forms of child labour. They are either working in mines, sugarcane plantations or as domestic servants.

This exposes them to all kinds of abuse including rape, sodomy, forced labour and even working without pay. Children are also vulnerable to abuse by relatives. "Never entrust your child to an opposite sex, even if the person is his or her close relative, uncle or cousin," says a children's dignity activist, Mhenga Paul who says the safety of children can only be assured when parenting is considered a noble role.

Does this situation point to the woman as the bigger abuser than man? When people arbitrarily draw their conclusions to suit their studies by ignoring the driving forces, they ignore the fact that women are only a victim of circumstances. Was the ministry's study for example, done among the poor farmers of Turiani in Morogoro or Kanyigo in Bukoba? Whom did it target, the urban working class or Kunduchi beach women splitting rocks to produce gravel or mama ntilie?

The ministry's report portrays women as the villain while disregarding their role as the actual breadwinner of their families. The obvious risk is to make society downplay efforts of those at the forefront in championing the rights of women. Lest we forget, women labour amid abject poverty to feed and care for the family. When we have isolated incidents of child mistreatment, these should not eclipse all the good things that women do to build the nation.

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