23 August 2014

Tanzania: Those Who Ruin Academic Brains

A FEW years ago, a meeting of stakeholders in education in Dodoma Region was told that some of the Kondoa District schoolgirls who performed outstandingly well in their final Standard Seven exams and get places in secondary schools often end up serving as barmaids.

The meeting, which brought together district commissioners, regional and district education officers and headmasters was told that since education was treated as a triviality by parents in the district some of the best academic brains were lost.

Most of these girls are naïve, hapless teenagers. The meeting also heard that businesspeople in the municipality of Dodoma and other townships, especially bar and guesthouse owners, often recruit service girls from Kondoa because of their beauty.

In the process they ruin the girls' educational prospects. This is heinous misconduct. The rights of children, including students, should not be trampled underfoot by anyone. It is an atrocity that must be shot down.

It is disgusting. It is gross child abuse. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child says in Article 11 that: "Every child shall have the right to education."

It adds that: "The education of the child shall be directed to the promotion and development of personality." The Charter, to which Tanzania is a signatory, insists that: Such education should also promote the child's talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential."

It should also be directed at "preparing the child for responsible life in a free society." The Charter also says States should "take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rate." Failure to join secondary schools on the part of the successful Kondoa District schoolgirls virtually amounts to dropping out of school.

So, in that vein, the Charter stresses that "special measures must be taken in respect of female, gifted and disadvantaged children to ensure equal access to education for all sections of the community.

The charter also calls for religious and moral education. The number of children who struggle to make a living in the streets in this country is shocking. Statistics are hard to come by but head count can easily run into hundreds of thousands. You would think they don't have parents at all. Some find the going impossible and try homelessness.

It is not uncommon to see children of school-going age slogging it out for a living as hawkers in the mean streets. Some parents and guardians often defend this saddening situation saying: "The children are acquainting themselves with the rudiments of earning a living." I spit and curse in anger, indignation and frustration.

People who have children close to their hearts will know why engaging underage children and bright teenage female students in menial jobs anger me. I have seen many under-age quarry stone crackers, shoe-shine boys, fitters, cart pushers, cattle minders, miners, prostitutes, domestic hands, farm helps and even factory labourers.

The list is virtually impossible to close. I have even seen children fishing on the high seas. I find it outrageous. Exploitation of child labour has become so commonplace in Tanzania that the average person no longer sees it as an outrageous felony. Not many people know that enlisting child labour is a crime.

Most child labourers toil for hours on end in the hot sun -- many of them on empty stomachs. Those who work in bars and restaurants slog it out for a living until midnight and end up getting a pittance of 50,000/- a month. Some are not paid at all on the pretext that they get "loose change."

The meagre earnings most of these children make always go to their masters, parents or guardians. The children often have to make do with the crumbs that remain on their masters' tables. This is arrant exploitation. It is cruelty ruthlessly meted out on hapless children. Once again, I curse and spit in disgust! In many cases these toiling children do not go to school.

Some may have dropped out due to financial constraints. When they fall sick, as they so often do because of their poor living conditions, they have to fend for themselves.

Hardly do they have the means to seek proper medical treatment with the attendant laboratory tests to ascertain their ailments. Add to these sorry conditions, the reality of sexual exploitation, especially of vulnerable young girls who always pander to the whims of their masters.

And one gets a sense of the inhuman treatment that many young people undergo on this land of plenty! This land of absolute freedom but with a modicum of justice!

This is incredible! I am disturbed by the manner in which some people view the exploitation of children. In Dodoma, some destitute children are offered a pittance for walking blind adults.

The children cover incredible distances walking from bar to bar; restaurant to restaurant and person to person begging in earnest for alms. These children, most of them boys -- never go to school.

They walk their elderly, blind "employers" or parents for years on end. They do not have time to learn new ways of earning a living - let alone going to school! So, to these unfortunate, highly vulnerable children, life is about begging - nothing else!

They often graduate into accomplished beggars at adulthood! Indeed in some deprived areas, parents actually goad and push their children onto the streets to go and hustle to take care of themselves.

Some girls in Kondoa drop out of schools to get married! Man, how disgusting! Some parents who have irresponsibly made large families tend to view their children as economic assets that can be used to make money. In yesteryears it was normal for parents to make up to 13 children without having economic qualms.

I came third in a family of 12 siblings. So, unlike the era when large families made good economic sense due to agricultural practice, these modern days of increasing urbanisation make large nuclear families a liability crunch. Those years the power of a family rested in the number of hands that went into the farm.

In theory, the more the children the more the hands that went into the farm. Polygamy was not scoffed at as, by assumption, the more the wives the more the children.

It made good economic sense, indeed. But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since those old good days. It is no longer fashionable to maintain large families.

However, because some people's mind-sets and psychological make-ups are still rooted in tradition, they still see nothing wrong with large families. It is such people who virtually "sell" their children into modern-day slavery. So, you will find rural children, such as those Kondoa schoolgirls, slogging it out for a living in urban households as domestic helps, shamba boys, cattle minders or barmaids.

I have seen such children, mostly boys, toiling away their youth as fishermen on rivers, lakes and seas. Some of the children we see roaming in the streets eating from garbage pits and sleeping in dank alleys may have started their lives as domestic helps. But they eventually became too frustrated to continue slaving.

They often run away to begin an equally demeaning life in the streets. Such children invariably end up as budding criminals and social misfits with no future but that of outlaws. They can be found in all the deprived inner city centres where they team up with adult underworld characters.

They come out in the dead of night like predatory beasts to sow mayhem. It would be remiss on my part not to mention here that the problem of child abuse, especially sexual exploitation of minors and child labour is gradually assuming dangerous proportions in our society and I think the time is long overdue for some drastic remedial action.

Apart from overwork, most domestic servants are invariably poorly fed, badly clothed and some sleep on hard, cold floors. A number of them sleep in cowsheds, poultry farms or too near kennels of noisy, fierce dogs. I insist, once again, that no one should wreck the lives of children.

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