How COVID-19 is playing with street children in Tanzania
Child labor is one of the worst socio-economic problems of our times. However, the crisis of COVID-19 has aggravated it further. The World Day Against Child Labour-2020 on June 12, focuses on the impact of the crisis on child labour. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours.
Children are highly vulnerable to crises. Their vulnerability stems from the fact that they have limited awareness, skills and resilience to comprehend the predicaments of nature and those created by adults, due to their young age and dependency on others for basic necessities. What follows is the increased vulnerability of children in the current COVID-19 crisis, particularly for those already in difficult circumstances. In Tanzania, they are the street children living and working on the streets who have become more vulnerable amidst the pandemic, highlighting the need for concerted efforts to address their plight in a comprehensive manner.
Subjected to child labor for survival, street children are often exposed to the wrong side of the law. Further, despite their young age, they do not have systematic care and protection from society. Besides, they also lack parental guidance. Tanzania is estimated to have a total of 6,393 street children, according to a study conducted by the Government of Tanzania with the USAID under Kizazi Kipya Project in 2017. As per the study, 14% of street children were in the 0-10 age category, 35% were in 11-14 and the largest chunk of 51% were in the 15-18 age category. A majority of older girls were involved in business activity, whereas the younger ones were either idle or engaged in begging. Notably, a higher proportion of female child labors were involved in fixed businesses compared to the boys. Besides, the girls were twice as likely to engage in begging than boys. While the most common night-time activity for boys on the streets was sleeping (39%), an overwhelming proportion of girls were engaged in sex work (79%). Further, most of these children were found in the biggest towns, namely Dar-es-Salaam, Mwanza, Mbeya, Tanga, and Arusha.
In Tanzania, the suffering of street children has been aggravated by the outbreak of the pandemic itself which has made them vulnerable to contracting the virus, given their almost negligible access to protective gear such as masks, sanitizers, and flowing water. As the rate of infection is not clearly known in the country, the government is not providing protective gear to vulnerable populations. The street children who are already living in hand-to-mouth conditions cannot afford these materials, their meagre earnings are now further lowered with a reduction in their typical economic activities - vending food and small consumer goods, shining shoes, washing windscreens, repairing tires, scavenging and rag-picking, begging, etc., due to limited movements and buyers in the cities. Deprivation and hunger are likely to make many more prone to be engaged in illegal activities such as theft and robbery, and the worst forms of child labor such as commercial sexual exploitation. Further, given that streets are their home, social distancing is practically impossible for them and the newer difficulties they are now facing due to the virus will cause them higher psychosocial distress.
Some child rights organizations have started responding to the needs of street children. In our capacities as social workers, we are doing whatever is possible. This includes reaching out to street children around Dar-es-Salaam Central Bus Stand area, awareness and sensitization efforts on prevention methods, circulating face masks, and public awareness via radio. We, however, need greater and sustainable efforts from actors across the world to reach out to all street children in the country and protect their rights and well-being. Paramount among these is providing financial resources and empowerment to civil society organizations (especially those at the grassroots level) for facilitating education, reunification, and social reintegration of street children; and extending safety nets on health and education to ensure that all vulnerable children are well covered.
Note: Nyakwesi Mujaya is the Founder and the Director of Makini Organization, working for street children. Daudi Chanila is the Secretary-General of ANPPCAN Tanzania Chapter. Eddna Chandeu is the Executive Director for Tanzania Child Welfare, Social Worker, and Treasurer for Tanzania Association of Social Workers.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)
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