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Poverty Turns Tanzanian Children to Labourers

By Alpha Nuhu, Panafrican News Agency, 18 January 2001

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - Poverty, and a mistaken belief that education is no longer valuable since it does not guarantee salaried employment, is destroying Tanzania's future generation.

Thousands of the country's children now abandon schooling and join tea and plantations, and mining centres as full-time casual labourers earning meagre incomes of less than 10 dollars a month.

Some 30 percent of children aged between 10 and 14 years have been dropping out of school beginning in the 1980s and 1990s with the consent of their parents who are unable to foot school- related bills following the removal of subsidies for education by the government as part of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's structural adjustment programme policy.

Cost institutions has dislocated the Tanzania government from its pledge of making full human resource mobilisation and its effective use as a major tool in development. As a result, in the education sector, many children of school-going age do not attend school. And for those who attend school, many of them drop before reaching standard seven, the peak of primary education.

What is more, many Tanzanian parents battling with the scaring costs and declining standards of living, question the value of schooling that imparts scant vocational skills to their sons and daughters.

What's the use of sending your children to school if the education they get cannot help them secure employment? queries 50-year-old Ali Saidi, a cashew nut farmer in the Indian Ocean coast district of Mkurangea, south of Dar es Salaam.

Under the country's prevailing harsh economic arrangement, many poverty-stricken Tanzanian parents increasingly look to their children to supplement their dwindling incomes.

Hence, it is easy to speculate that some pupils opt for full-time labour outside the school system, where at least they get paid, rather than the exploitative conditions of labouring in the name of boosting school funds.

Under Tanzania's labour laws, children who constitute close to 70 percent of the country's estimated population of 32 million, are prohibited from employment until they attained the age of 18 years.

Anyone flouting that code is liable for a heavy penalty. But a study conducted in 1993, shows that more than four million children are employed in the hazardous informal sector which has grown rapidly since 1986 when Tanzania adopted market- oriented economic reforms and slashed public spending.

Donor nations blame Tanzanian authorities for not investing in children's health and education, saying that the East African nation forgets that the development of children will eventually lead to the development of the country in other sectors.

Tanzanian authorities forget that children are the foundation of the future generation, says a Western diplomat in Dar es Salaam.

Education experts say that lack of early childhood development strategies in terms of pre-school formation is one of the sources of child labour in the East African country.

Pre-school and day-care centres are lacking in many towns, resulting in low enrolment, high dropout rates and inefficiency in primary school learning, says an educationist who asked to remain anonymous.

The International Labour Organisation's representative in Tanzania, Ali Ibrahim, says while poverty can be fought by empowering households economically, the solution to ignorance and demand for cheap labour lies in sensitisation and mobilisation to help people understand the evils of child labour.

Child labour cannot be eliminated overnight. Because the problem has existed for a long time and is embedded in economic needs of children, parents and employers, says Hilary Chowo, vice-chairman of the African Network for Prevention and Protection of Child Abuse and Neglect, Tanzania Chapter.

Although the Tanzania government admits the seriousness and magnitude of the child labour problem in the country, there are no tangible measures taken to eliminate it, particularly by punishing employers of children under the age of 16 years.

Says a senior government official: We know the problem is destroying our future generation. But as families struggle to cope with rising costs and fewer jobs, the income contribution of children becomes an essential part of the family survival strategy.

It's really a national problem that we must all fight to save the lives of our children now subjected to long hours, hazardous working conditions and poor remuneration, he adds.