2021 was declared as the International Year of the Elimination of Child Labor by the UN. To mark this event for the first time ever in Tanzania, several NGOs came together in accord. Our very own Cynthia Omondi was an invited guest and she travelled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to join in the proceeding.
text and pictures: Cynthia Omondi
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. Subject to the theme; Act now: end child labor! UNGA asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) to take the lead in its implementation. It would also encourage legislative and practical actions to eradicate the vice worldwide. In Tanzania, the first ever commemoration of World Day against Child Labor event was held by Tanzania Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s). It’s a coalition that was formed by over 40 organizations from different parts of the country. The event was held at Watoto Wetu Tanzania Children’s Home, located in Mbezi, Dar es Salaam (‘Watoto Wetu’ is Swahili for ‘Our Children’).
“Seeing children toil away from a very tender age in slave-like conditions is robbing them of their childhood and no child deserves that. Despite families being caught between a rock and a hard place, school should be the only workplace for all children,” said Winnie Nyandiga during her opening remarks. She is the East African coordinator of 100 Million Campaign organization. Child labor in Tanzania continues to affect an estimated 4.2 million children aged 5–17 years, about 29 percent of the age group.
There were moving performances from the children who were present during the occasion, majority being from the children’s home. Breathtaking renditions from the talented children filled the air as they sang their hearts out with emotional songs that brought many to tears. They sang about the struggles that street and orphaned children go through. They highlighted the pain, discrimination and frustrations they go through when they are neglected by the society and subjected to harsh conditions. One of the choruses that still lingers in my mind is; “They are restless, suffering from lack of aid. Others are destroyed in this world, who will listen to their plea?”
Watoto Wetu Tanzania is an independent civil society organization committed to providing relief to orphans and vulnerable children regardless of race or religious belief. This is done through provision of quality education, awareness raising, capacity building and other basic needs. They do this in collaboration with government institutions, non-governmental organizations, international organizations and individuals. Many children have benefitted from this program after they were rescued either from the streets or harsh working environments. On this day, they stood tall to tell their painful stories. It was the perfect choice of venue for the event as stakeholders and all attendees were able to listen as to why child labor should be eliminated, from the children’s perspective.
The girls from Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Development Organization (WEEDO) proved to us that indeed style is a way to say who you are without having to speak. They cat walked on the runway with their colorful garments in different designs made out of locally produced kitenge fabric and organic cotton. These are girls that never made it through secondary school with others having been rescued from child labor cases. They have been given a second chance to help them realize their full potential through various trainings. Interestingly, all the garments showcased on this event, down to the sewing, were done by them. On a year where we intend to eliminate child labor, these girls had only one message, ‘we can only grow, if given a chance!’
Teresia, a fourteen-year-old survivor and a victim of child trafficking, shared her woeful story on how her mother was duped to release her to the hands of strangers. She was ferried to the city of Dar es Salaam from Morogoro. “The lady told my mother that she was taking me to the city for a better life and education. I couldn’t refuse to go with her because my mother had already agreed. We traveled to another stranger’s place in Mbagala and I was told that would be my new home. I had expected to be taken to school but that was just but a dream. I later learnt that I was there to work as a house help. The lady that took me from my mother kept moving me from one house and one town to another as she got paid through my toil. Later, a Good Samaritan who noticed my miseries came to my rescue and it was a police case. That is how I was rescued,” she narrated dolefully.
Debora, a beneficiary of WEEDO, began child labor at the tender age of 10. To make it worse she began it right at her home. “My mother was a fishmonger and every day after school, I was forced to help her take fish to the market to sell. This was my life from the age of ten ‘til the time I cleared my standard seven. The long hours in the market affected my performance and in my final exam, I scored way below average. I was scolded for failing and since I couldn’t continue with secondary education, my mother insisted that I should join my brother in the city and look for a job. For one and a half years I worked as a house help with overwhelming duties. I used to sleep for only four to five hours. I felt enslaved. For a long time, I cursed my life and wondered why I was born. Was I meant to just work from the age of 10 yet kids my age enjoyed playing and going to school? I joined WEEDO in 2019 and ever since, I’ve gained a lot of skills. No child deserves to undergo what I went through, it is simply not right!” she testified and concluded with teary eyes.
Other children spoke on how being orphaned at a very young age forced them into child labor. They had to drop out of school since they had to fend for themselves. “When we talk of child labor many people think of children working in the mines, big farms and factories. We forget about the young girls that have been ferried to the cities to work as house helps. People prefer cheap labor at the expense of infringing on children’s rights. Action needs to be taken now,” said Scholastica Pembe. She was a key organizer of the event and the founder of New Hope New Winners Foundation, an organization that focuses on saving street children in Dar es Salaam.
This was a very significant day in Tanzania. This was evident from the speeches that were given from the various guests that had a chance to speak. The children and survivors painted a clear picture of just how bad child labor is, with the guests echoing the same. “According to the scripture, Jesus says let the children come to me. I want to acknowledge, in a very special way, all the organizations here that are working to ensure children have a normal life and are well taken care of. You have stood in place of Jesus and I thank you so much for standing with these children,” said Jeffery Nyaigesha, the mayor of Ubungo Municipal who was the chief guest for the day.
The event was just the first step as the organizations plan to work together in more upcoming activities. They will involve individuals, the government and event international organizations to ensure that Tanzania is free from child labor and children enjoy the rights they deserve. Plans are underway to bring stakeholders on board and come up with policies that safeguard children and prohibits employers from employing underage children. “Advocacy and activism work is very expensive but we have committed ourselves to ensure we walk this journey together and achieve our ultimate goal. Even for this event, it took a lot of sacrifice as we had to dig deep into our pockets and do some contributions to ensure the day is a success. We still have a long way to go but this very first step was very important. We hope that more people will join us and by 2022 the rate of child labor will have dropped tremendously. Not only in Tanzania but hopefully, across the globe. The goal is to eliminate it completely,” Scholastica Pembe told me.
Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General states; “There is no place for child labor in society. It robs children of their future and keeps families in poverty.” Let us all join hands in eliminating child labor.
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