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NGOs Seek Long-Term Settlement Of Street Children

African Church Information Service (Nairobi), 15 January 2001

Dodoma - Dodoma, the Tanzanian administrative capital, has its share of street children. Even more alarming is that the rising number of working children is a new phenomenon in Tanzania.

Although reliable statistics are rare, available information suggests that the number of street children remains extremely high. There are approximately 3,000 street children today living in streets of Dodoma while available statistics indicate that in 1994 there were only 1,000 street children.

Although the internationally recommended minimum age for work is 15 years (ILO Convention Number 138) and the number of child workers under the age of 10 is far from negligible, almost all data available on child labour concerns the 10 to 14 age group.

According to the statistics available from the Country Representative Offices of the ILO in Dar Es Salaam, the greatest number were found in Asia - 44.6 million (13 percent) followed by Africa - 23.6 million (by far the highest rate at 26.3 percent) and Latin America 5.1 million (9.8 percent).

The ILO estimates that more than 73 million children in that age group alone were economically active in 1995, representing 13.2 percent of all 10 to 14 year olds around the world.

However, few statistical reports exist and if all could be counted as well as the domestic work performed full-time by girls, the total number of child workers around the world today might be in the hundreds of millions.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the number of working girls are often underestimated by statistical survey, as they usually do not take into account full-time housework performed by many children, the vast majority of whom are girls, in order to enable their parents to go to work.

It should be born in mind that girls tend to work longer hours than boys and they have been employed as domestic workers, a type of employment in which hours of work are typically extremely long and their payment is much lower than the minimum rate set by the government.

In Tanzania, for example, the government is paying TShs 41,000 as the lower payment (equivalent to US$ 51) but the domestic workers are paid between TShs 3,000 and 10,000 monthly depending on mode of employment and the employer.

This is also the case of girls employed in other types of jobs who in addition to their professional activity, must help with the housework in their parent's home.

The Regional Education Officer in Dodoma, Neema Masawe, explains that one of the factors affecting the supply of child labour is the high cost in real terms of obtaining an education. Many children work to cover the costs of school expenses while others perform their duty just to earn their bread and nothing else, she notes.

However, many working children face significant threats to their health and safety. The majority are involved in farming and are routinely exposed to harsh climate, sharpened tools, heavy loads as well, increasingly, as to toxic chemicals and motorised equipment, adds Masawe.

Girls in particular work as domestic servants away from their homes and are frequently victims of physical, mental and sexual abuses which can have devastating consequences on their health. Some girls are engaged in guesthouses and brothels.

Apart from child labour, there is another challenge of street children. As the problem becomes rampant, girls are also busy loitering in the town streets committing juvenile crimes, stealing, smoking marijuana as well as drinking and bogging.

At night, street children normally sleep or hide in abandoned houses well known as mapagale most of which are incomplete while others hide in deleted or derelict vehicles at the bus stands, railway stations, under street calverts or bridges and in markets.

It is observed that economic and social problems like poverty and broken homes contribute significantly to the problem of juvenile delinquency; the culprit to the whole problem is non other than the falling apart of the family.

Addressing the workshop on how to combat the problem of street children in Tanzania, the Catholic Bishop of Dodoma Diocese Right Rev Matias Isuja Joseph supports the argument that a growing number of parents do not fulfil their role of rearing and taking care of their children.

Their family, whether broken, rich or poor, is the nuclear agency and school to effect the direction and indeed, the provision of child and school to effect the direction which a particular child will take, Isuja emphasises.

The prelate also stressed that there is growing need to focus on the most abusive and hazardous forms a child labour, and providing them first concern and priority. He appealed to the parents to adhere to marriage ethics to avoid estrangement which contribute much to the alarming problem of street children.

To him the problem of child labour goes together with the rampant question of street children. However, he suggests a new name to be coined or sought to replace street children (Swahili word Watoto wa mitaani or Matondola, Gogo or Chokora in Kenya) which tends to give umbrage to them.

In order to take care of such children, Isuja says special concept must be set. Children require devotion, love, personnel, money, food, clothes, buildings, beddings, education, health care, equipment for indoor games and above all, counselling.

The Catholic Church runs a centre for street children currently renamed Tumaini Centre. According to the bishop, the first title was somewhat misleading and not logical as he would like to put it.

The children never applied to God or anywhere to become street children.

The church provided the beautiful building and other facilities to keep the centre functioning. Already, about 40 children are now attending primary schools, 10 in nursery schools, 12 in secondary schools and another five will be repatriated to their respective homes because their ages do not warrant them to stay longer at the centre.

Apart from Tumaini Centre, the street children are accommodated in another two Christian centres - AGAPE Centre and SAFINA Centre, all based in Dodoma Municipality with about 100 children collected from the town's streets.

However, the established centres in Dodoma serve only as temporary measures to defuse the explosive situation. According to observers, the government and NGOs as well as individuals and community-based organisations will have to come up with a comprehensive programme for a long-term solution to the problem. ? Reported by Daniel Benno Msangya in Dodoma