Vulnerable souls raise dissenting voices


A few months ago a non-governmental organization called Siha Aids Fund contributed almost seven million shillings to help ease the suffering of orphans and vulnerable children who live in abject poverty and, consequently, very difficult conditions.

The money, the benefactors said, was tailored to be spent in supporting children who live in a hell-on-earth and face societal stigma and loneliness. The Fund also sought to help destitute children acquire quality education and other needs.

Yes, it is this kind of support that vulnerable children need most. A few years ago, a visiting District Commissioner (DC) was nearly moved to tears when children at an orphanage were made to sing about their predicament before well wishers.

In their song the kids mentioned the hardships they faced, wept bitterly and begged for alms from the gathering of invited well-wishers. This scenario had been arranged by the orphanage owners in a quest to whip emotions and attract money.

So, the orphans wept as they sang sending a grim message that they were desperate for support. Indeed, some of the women visitors, who were there to pledge support for the orphans, shed tears too.

And money trickled in. But children are not the only destitute souls around. Women and the disabled fall into this group albeit with differing predicaments. Some of the women who feel the pinch of societal disregard and some form of stigma, include politicians and employed workers.

Women’s dissent in connection with their lowly status in society did not go unnoticed in the year 2014--from the upper political echelons to the household level. Indeed, during the year women demanded a 50-50 representation in the Nation Assembly and got the nod.

Their request was granted but they still have a fight on their hands--they must win in the constituency polls to make it to the Debating Chamber. The women also demanded more chances in the Cabinet and other prestigious decision-making positions in government.

Their voices found listening ears but even here, positions do not come on a silver platter. Those who contend for top positions in the world of white-collar workers must have requisite qualifications to flaunt.

Those who qualify must fight to fight to the top. At the lowest rung are domestic workers, barmaids and wives. These too complained bitterly, demanding improvement in their standards of living.

Perhaps the hardest hit were the domestic workers, some of whom do not get any remuneration at all. During the year, the press railed at the miserable working conditions of domestic workers but its extent of coverage did not dig deep enough to expose the extreme situations of near-slavery rather than the general situation of servitude and exploitation.

While it is imperative that such cases be condemned, the press did not provide a comprehensive scenario of the working conditions and status of domestic workers. Therefore, it did not help to improve the welfare of vulnerable domestic workers.

The domestic workers’ job is an elusive category that is difficult to be defined. It is even more difficult to protect this kind of worker who is, invariably, invisible. the workplace itself—the private household.

It is near-impossible for labour inspectors to wander into private homes in a quest to speak to domestic workers. The situation is equally difficult for workers’ organizations for collective action.

So, in the case of clandestine situations, which can occur more easily in this type of workplace, workers are even more vulnerable and virtually voiceless.

It is common knowledge that domestic work is mainly performed by women, especially the young, naïve girls, some of whom are shunted in from rural villages. In Tanzania, domestic workers include young boys who are often roped in to mind cattle, pigs or chicken.

Domestic workers often include housekeepers, cattle minders, shamba boys, drivers, shop attendants, child minders and others. Some livein domestic workers earn as little as 30,000/- a month. The ruse for this anomaly is that the workers eat at their master’s table.

It is difficult to give a rough estimate of the number of domestic workers in Tanzania due to the presence of unregulated or clandestine relationships. Even domestic workers who are the most exploited may not be ready to report their predicament to authorities.

Unregistered workers do not appear in official statistics and child domestic workers are ignored by household surveys. They are not supposed to work and are counted as children of the household.

This assumption, unknown to the surveyors, hurts the vulnerable. Given its social and economic invisibility and the accompanying low social status, domestic work is often exploitative. Most domestic workers encounter exploitative, inhumane working conditions.

Many slog it out for a living in long hours of work; others lug heavy loads and there are those who lack privacy. Nearly all domestic workers get low salaries, inadequate accommodation and too little food (especially the live-in workers).

There is also the problem of job insecurity, absence of benefits normally granted to other categories of workers and exposure to violence and abuse. Most domestic workers have limited time for rest and rarely enjoy leisure.

In Tanzania, most domestic workers hail from less affluent regions such as Dodoma, Singida and Iringa. Employers’ eyes often scout for poor, jobless boys and girls who fail their Standard Seven examinations in rural Tanzania.

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