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Illegal child labour remains unchecked

Recent figures are hard to come by but head count must have soared over the years to more than three million. A Member of Parliament, Mr Salim Khalfan (Tumbe - CUF), told the National Assembly a few years ago that more and more children were being engaged in dangerous forms of labour.

He said that the situation was more critical in rural Tanzania where children slogged it out for a living in commercial agriculture, mining pits and as domestic helps in homes. Mr Khalfan said underage girls try their luck even in prostitution. He was concerned that not much was being done to rescue them. 

"You would think they don't have parents at all; or that there was no government agency to protect them," he lamented. It is not uncommon to see school-age children slogging it out for a living as hawkers in the mean streets. 

This may not be a bad form of labour but children should be in schools. Failure to protect children from any form of strenuous labour amounts to child abuse.

Some parents defend this situation saying:  "The children are acquainting themselves with the rudiments of earning a living. They must work alongside parents or own their own so they develop the talents, mental capabilities and physical abilities to their fullest potential."
 
So, you find in towns under-age quarry stone crackers, shoe-shine boys, fitters, cart pushers, sand miners, prostitutes, domestic hands, farm helps and even factory labourers. In rural areas you find land tillers, cattle minders, cutters of hut construction poles, firewood collectors and even grave diggers.

The list is virtually impossible to close. Socially disadvantaged children have been seen working in fishing vessels on the high seas. Welfare officers say exploitation of child labour has become so commonplace in Tanzania that the average person no longer sees it as a serious offence.

Not many people know that enlisting child labour is a crime that attracts a one-year jail term or heavy fine. Most child labourers are made to toil for hours in the hot sun -- many of them on empty stomachs. The meagre earnings most of these children make always go to their masters, parents or guardians.

A social welfare worker, who wished to remain anonymous, says working children often make do with the crumbs that remain on their masters' tables. "This is arrant exploitation. It is cruelty ruthlessly meted out on hapless children." 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."
 
In many cases these toiling children do not go to school. Some may have dropped out of school 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 usually by seeking minimum medication, the welfare workers says.
 
"Hardly do they have the means to seek proper medical treatment with the attendant laboratory tests to ascertain what is really wrong with them. 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 in this land of plenty. This land of absolute freedom but with a modicum of justice for children! It is Incredible! I am disturbed by the manner in which some people view the exploitation of children," she says.

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 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 parents who have irresponsibly made large families tend to view their children as economic assets that can be used to make money.

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. 

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 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.

Meanwhile, the problem of child abuse, especially sexual exploitation of minors and child labour is gradually assuming dangerous proportions in the country. The number of children who experience injuries and illnesses as a result of working in hazardous conditions in agriculture projects in rural Tanzania accounts for a "very high proportion."

"Slaving children" can be seen some in sisal, sugar, tea and coffee plantations. Others work in mines. They too suffer physical and mental impairments. On agriculture farms children cut sugarcane, weeds and tall grasses using hand tools. 
Others tend cattle, milk cows and goats and take care of other farm animals. They lift and carry heavy baskets and bags containing crops. Similar hardships are experienced in family farms. Heavy lifting, carrying and prolonged stooping affect musculo-skeletal development of children, pediatricians say.  

On large farm projects children mix, load and apply pesticides or fertilizers -- which are highly toxic and potentially dangerous to their health. Children's bodies suffer the effects of fatigue due to excessive energy expenditure faster than those of adults and most of these children also suffer from malnutrition because of inadequate food intake, which makes them more vulnerable to illnesses.

Apart from overwork, most child servants are invariably poorly fed, badly clothed and some sleep on hard, cold floors.  Some sleep in cowsheds, poultry farms or too near kennels of noisy, fierce dogs. Other domestic hands sleep in shacks in farms a considerable distance away from their employer's home.

And there are those who sleep in ramshackle old mud huts near smelly pig-pens. Their employers, unfortunately, have no qualms about mistreating other people's sons and daughters! At the level of closely-knit families, all children should be accorded the honour to grow up in a friendly environment enjoying a sense of belonging. Children should be defended against all sorts of evil and harm. No one should exploit children. 

"We cannot develop as a nation if we cannot support the poor, defend the weak and help the vulnerable to overcome their problems. Exploitation of children is a cardinal sin that smells to high heaven.  Children need good education - not ruthless exploitation. In 2005, the then Minister for Labour, Youth Development and Sports, Prof Juma Kapuya, told the National Assembly that his ministry had rescued 65 girls aged between 15 and 17 years from prostitution and offered them decent jobs after training.  He said the crusade would be continued.

Indeed, this was a commendable effort. Not many people are aware that child prostitution exists in this country.  Well, it does, albeit at a small scale. In Tanzania, as the cost of living keeps soaring, some families, especially in rural areas, find bread winning becoming increasingly difficult. 

It is a stark fact that nearly 80 per cent of rural families are lack money and food.  Naturally, in such a situation it is the children who suffer most. Poverty levels have reached an alarming proportion in rural areas in the wake of famine, especially in the central and southern regions, prompting children to migrate to towns and cities in search of better livelihood. 

Some poor parents push their children into virtual slavery and prostitution. So it is abject poverty, exacerbated by pangs of hunger, which eventually drives destitute children into prostitution or into the illegal labour market where ruthless employers offer them high-risk jobs. When an adult uses a child for sexual gratification, however, this amounts to gross abuse. Child prostitution in this country may not be highly pronounced but it exists.

So, in that vein, the African 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 calls for religious and moral education.












THE government has been taking a number of ...

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Author: SOSTHENES MWITA

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