TODAY I look at the injuries and fatalities that await young and older children in rural Tanzania. Most children in rural Tanzania are born to poor peasants who eke out a living tilling the land.
Here, livelihood is also drawn from livestock rearing, beekeeping, hunting wildlife and collecting wild fruits and tubers. Most children here are born and raised in mud huts. I was born and brought up in an environment of this nature.
I must hasten, however, to mention that rural children face less life threatening dangers than their urban counterparts. Children aged between 18 months and four years face by far less dangers.
Village children are likely to be stung by a wide variety of ants, scorpions, wasps and wild bees that sometimes invade human dwellings and snakes that seek warmth in the huts during cold nights.
The insects can easily be kept at bay by insecticide spray. However, it is difficult to determine when a swarm of traveling bees, whose population normally ranges from thousands to millions, will surround or even enter a hut.
Clearing the bush and grass in and around the compound can help control the movement of snakes. Bees and snakes kill in a matter of minutes. Families that keep bees should make sure the hives are kept in distant forests and perched high in the canopies of tall trees away from the reach of older children who enter forests hunting birds or tending cattle.
It is common for children to lob stones at clusters of nesting bees. Nesting bees are vicious and can attack in earnest, stinging once each. Domestic animals such as cows, sheep, goats and pigs can also pose danger to children.
Some cows dislike the sight of children and can gore or kick a child to death. Yoked bulls can also be dangerous. Suckling goats and sheep have a penchant for head butting children. A well-placed knock can kill a child.
A hen that is walking chicks in the compound can scratch an approaching child. Angry or frightened pigs can bite with a vengeance. Donkeys are good beasts of burden but they are notorious for hard kicking and biting.
A donkey kick can kill a child. Domestic animals and birds can also frighten children with their crude cries or other noises. The grunt of a pig or bray of a donkey can send a child scampering.
Pets like cats, dogs and rodents can also attack or frighten young or even older children. Like chickens, pigs, cows, goats, sheep and donkeys, suckling dogs and cats can attack children who attempt to tough their young.
Such animals should be penned away from children’s playgrounds. When tilling the land with a plough, yoked animals tend to be vicious when they get tired. They hiss furiously and attempt to gore, kick or bite anyone in sight.
Children should be kept away from angry animals. When ploughing, it is common to bare a snake that may have been sleeping in an underground den. The plough blade is also likely to cut the snake into two pieces.
Such injured snake may lunge at anyone, including the yoked bulls in the quest to bite. Snakes discharge highly poisonous venom that kills in minutes. Children should be kept away from the turning earth.
Thorns, some of which may be poisonous, may prick children who are helping out in the farm. It is also possible for a child to tread on the spines (skeleton)of a dead snake whose prickle can be as deadly as a live snakebite.
Children like walking in the furrow that is left behind by the plough. It is in this furrow that they are most likely to meet injured snakes. Older children like climbing trees to snare nesting birds.
Sometimes snakes enter the nests, eat the eggs or nestlings and then lurk to waylay their mother. Unsuspecting children are likely to plant their hands into the nests to see if there are eggs so that they lay the snares.
A lurking snake is unlikely to take kindly to an intruder. When I was growing up in the village in the seventies I saw many snakes lurking in weaverbirds’ nests. Children like swimming in shallow pools of stagnant water.
Dangers that lurk in this kind of water include bloodsucking leeches. Some species of leeches dig deep into the flesh of humans or animals and remain there. Sometimes they reach the liver posing a very serious health risk.
Marine snakes, turtles and frogs have highly poisonous bites. It is also possible for children to drown in such pools. A child drowns in less than two minutes. Although it is prudent to equip children with swimming skills, they should be supervised when they do so.
I have survived drowning four times, thanks to the swimming skills I acquired from my parents. Vessels I was traveling in capsized--once in the Indian Ocean, twice in Lake Victoria and once in Lake Michigan in the United States.
It is important to teach children survival skills. It is also imperative to mention here that competent medical care is invariably difficult to access when an accident strikes a child in rural areas.
If a child suffers a broken bone his parents often rush for herbal intervention and some ailments such as malaria are referred to witchdoctors. Children employed in large-scale farms in rural Tanzania have a different set of health risks.
Here children work for long hours without limits on the length of daily working time or occupational safety and health regulations. You will find them in sisal, coffee, tea or sugar plantations. Under these circumstances, children can work for 12 hours a day with only 30 to 60 minutes breaks, without provision of adequate protective equipment, clothing or training.
They are often exposed to toxic insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers. Water for washing may not be available. When working, children are sometimes forced to adopt awkward positions such as bending over, kneeling or lying down on their backs.
These awkward postures cause a lot of harm to the child’s physical and mental health. Clearly, child labour is illegal exploitation that is punishable bylaw. Exposure to harmful chemicals in plantations can cause respiratory diseases that can develop later into pulmonary fibrosis.
Hazards in this sector also include physical strain, fatigue and musculo-skeletal disorders, as well as serious injuries. Very serious injuries can emanate from carrying heavy loads. Falling tools and other objects can cause head, hand and foot injuries.
Other health impairments can be brought on by noise and vibration from heavy machinery; and there is the element of being run over by heavy equipment. Article 15 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children stipulates that “Every child shall be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.