Focus on child labour

Kena, 13, left her home in the northeastern Tanzanian port town of Tanga two years ago. Coming from a poor family, she was excited at the prospect of travelling, especially to a distant place. Not only was she going to the country's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, but she had also been promised an education - something her family could not afford.

At first, life in Dar es Salaam was good, and she was treated as one of the children in her new family, Kena said. But not long after arriving in Tandika, one of the city's poorer suburbs, she soon realised that she would not be spending her early mornings walking to school. Instead, she was made to wash clothes, sweep the house and cook for the two adults and four children she lived with.

"After a while, I began to ask when I would be allowed to go to school," she said. "But I was told that I wasn't part of the family and I was to forget about school because I was a grown-up just pretending to be young."

Despite being frequently abused and beaten, Kena endured this treatment for 15 months, earning 2,500 shillings ($2.50) a month until she fled, eventually coming across a shelter run by an organisation that cares for children who escape labour.

Modern-day slavery

The body that cared for Kena is the Kiota Women's Health and Development Organisation. Working closely with ward leaders within community structures, the NGO works at preventing girls from becoming prostitutes or working as domestic servants.

The NGO also runs eight crisis management centres nationwide to rescue and rehabilitate these girls but the director, Justa Mwaituka, is concerned about an emerging trend.

"In terms of quantification it is difficult to be precise, but the problem is definitely serious and growing because we keep on getting new arrivals at the centres and new faces among the children engaging in child prostitution," she told IRIN on 15 July.

Mwaituka added that there was also an increase in the number of girls being trafficked from various parts of the country to Dar es Salaam, where they are sold to work as domestic workers, sometimes for as little as 20,000 shillings ($20).

"When we find these girls, we try and work with the local reconciliation committees, made up of respected members of the community, in order to situate and dismantle the recruiting centres they came from," Mwaituka said.

"It is a slave bondage and the worst thing about it is that the perpetrators are the parents," she said.

Other organisations are also active countrywide in helping such children. The Trade Union Congress of Tanzania, the Tanzanian Media Women's Association and the government's Department of Information Services, known as Maelezo, are some of the organisations fighting for the rights of children.

In the northeastern town of Arusha, an NGO, Good Hope, helps to withdraw children from tanzanite mines in the Mererani area. In the south-central town of Iringa the Youth Development Centre organises activities against child labour.

Many factors

Despite efforts by these organisations, hundreds of thousands of children find themselves engaged in commercial agriculture and mining. This is mainly due to poverty, lack of education and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Moreover, poverty has led to children lying to employers about their real age in order to get work meant for adults. Such children consequently end up working under harsh conditions which, campaigners say, denies them their basic rights to a decent living, a healthy environment, education and protection.

The 2000-2001 National Labour Force and Child Survey found that 4.7 million children aged between five and 17 years were engaged in economic activities. Of these, it was estimated that 1.2 million were engaged in commercial agriculture, mining, prostitution and domestic service, the "worst forms of child labour".

The executive director of the Association of Tanzanian Employers, Africanus Maenda, said that efforts were being made to curb the practice in agriculture and mining.

"Child labour has been banned in all commercial agriculture settings, including the decision by employers to refuse to buy produce such as tea, sugarcane and tobacco from out growers who employ children," he told participants marking this year's World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June in Dar es Salaam.

"The association has underscored the need for its members to be socially responsible in the conduct of their business activities," he said. "We have stressed that child labour is unacceptable."

Indeed, steps are being taken and Tanzania is one of the first three countries in the world (the others being El Salvador and Nepal) to implement the pilot "Time Bound programme" to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The government-run programme, which is supported by the International Labour Office (ILO) and is funded mainly by the US Department of Labour, has only been running for a year, but initial results are promising.

Focusing on commercial agriculture, mining, domestic work and prostitution, the government and its social partners are working in 11 districts to combat child labour. They are doing so by building capacity, developing media programmes, identifying those most in need of withdrawal and providing rehabilitation, education and alternative training for rescued children.

The government recently reaffirmed its commitment to the fight against child labour, saying that the Time Bound Programme was a fundamental element of its development agenda on poverty alleviation, employment and education promotion and HIV/AIDS control.

"Rescuing millions of children can be achieved through increased commitment and solidarity of stakeholders," William Ngowi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Youth Development and Sports, said in July.

"The government recognises this obligation and, as a matter of necessity, is reviewing and updating the employment laws and finalising the Child Labour Policy strategies with a view to ensuring that children are protected from economic exploitation," he said.

Progress being made

The ILO recognises that while the problem in Tanzania is "serious", national ownership of such initiatives is vital and the government's efforts are paying off.

"The programme has started very well," William Malya, an ILO programme officer, told IRIN on 11 July. "But with poverty, HIV/AIDS and poor access to education, there are a lot of factors involved and, put together, they make it a difficult issue to tackle. Child labour has to be tackled in a holistic way."

Malya is confident that, having broached the initial distinction between child labour and children who work in order to help their families coping in difficult circumstances, Tanzania is ready to tackle the worst forms of child labour.