- Published on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 02:57
- Written by SOSTHENES MWITA
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TANZANIA 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 recent research shows that there are about 4,500 street children in Dar es Salaam alone. The reason for this sorry spectacle is easy to see. 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. In some cases, poverty levels reach an alarming proportion especially in the central and southern regions.
This prompts children to migrate to towns and cities in search of better livelihoods. It is also on record that some poor parents push their children into virtual slavery and prostitution.
So, it is abject poverty that eventually drives destitute children into servitude, slavery and 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.
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. Again, some indulge in prostitution. In other 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 counselling 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 out 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 (commonly known as Changudoa).
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). Most 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.