Street Children in Tanzania
Presentation made to the Arusha Caucus for Children’s Rights
4th August 2004,
By Mkombozi Centre for Street Children
A profile and call for action
All children, are to some extent vulnerable to coming to the streets.
If we only start acknowledging them as worthy of intervention once they come to the streets we are merely putting a bandage on the wound rather than preventing the sore in the first place.
In the ongoing debate about ‘Who are street children’ there are various definitions. These include, but are not limited to ‘Full-time street children’ who live, sleep, eat and work on the streets without adult care, ‘Part-time street children’ who spend a part of each day on the streets, begging, playing or working and then return home at night and ‘At risk’ children who live in poverty or are victims of family breakdown and are at risk of coming to live on the street full or part-time. However, important as these definitions may be for planning and monitoring purposes what must drive our work at all time is that each child is an individual with an individual past, aspirations and needs.
Spectrum of vulnerability
The child you see loitering on the pavement could be yours.
- A child’s departure from home is seldom sudden, despite common conceptions to the contrary. Rather, it usually takes the form of a series of steps in which individuals find out more about the urban environment, investigate work opportunities and make contact with homeless street children. Similarly, the factor prompting departure is less commonly a single bounded event than is often thought – rather, it is often a combination of stressors on different causal levels, as suggested in a recent ILO report:
- (A) Immediate: the reason why a child may leave home and go to work or live on the streets could be a sudden drop in family income; loss of support from an adult family member due to illness, death or abandonment; or an episode of domestic violence.
- (B) Underlying: chronic impoverishment, cultural expectations (such as the idea that a boy should go to work on the streets as soon as he is able), desire for consumer goods, or the lure of the city.
- (C) Structural: factors such as development shocks, structural adjustment, regional inequalities and social exclusion.
- This multiplicity of levels means that few children are able to perceive all the circumstances that contributed to their decision to leave home. The reasons given by a child on the day of leaving home may anyway be quite different to those they offer three months later after s/he has rationalised his/her home situation and their actions.
ILO (2002) A Future without Child Labour. Geneva: International Labour Organisation.
In Best or Vested Interests: Thomas Feeny: Consortium for Street Children, 2004
Successful interventions must address the multiplicity of levels. Currently this is not the case since NGO’s tend to focus on the immediate and underlying. It is primarily the Government’s role to address underlying and structural issues.
Since the early 1990s Tanzania has witnessed a visible increase in the number of children living and working on the street.
A census conducted by Mkombozi in 2003 identified 259 full time and 520 part time street children in Moshi and Arusha.
In Moshi 14% (64) and in Arusha 29% (195) identified themselves as full time street children.
In Moshi 49% (224) and in Arusha 44% (296) of children identified themselves as part time street children.
In both towns there are more part time street children on the streets than full time and more boys than girls.
In Moshi 92% of full time street children and 89% of part time street children are between 10 and 19 years of age.
In Arusha 94% of full time street children and 96% of part time street children were between the ages of 10 – 19.
In Moshi 25% and in Arusha 12% of street children came from Mkombozi’s target communities (Kibosho, Majengo, Machame and Uru).
In Moshi 77.23% and in Arusha 69.26% of part time street children are not in school.
What about in Tanzania?
The current problem is not so much the children who are currently on the streets but the scale of children who are vulnerable within their homes and will inevitably come to the streets because there are no alternative safety nets.
What is the causation in Tanzania?
When people talk about conflict they immediately think of war or active violence, but Mkombozi strongly believes that conflict is endemic and latent in every human relationship. What matters is how we manage conflict so that it does not escalate into violence. Our experience is that the majority of street children have come from families where conflict is poorly managed and that once on the streets they too perpetuate cycles of running away from conflict or resorting to violence when trying to deal with it.
- Mkombozi’s Participatory Action Research (PAR) in Kilimanjaro Region has identified that the immediate causation of street children is conflict. It is a factor within the home environment that frequently pushes children to run away and is endemic in their lives on the streets.
- Rural poverty impacts in turn on the family unit, marked increasingly by fathers leaving the family home to look for work, and increased poverty still.
- Single parenthood as children are birthed out of marriage, relationships break down and parents die. Within the town the extended family does not provide the support that it would in a rural context. Single parents are either engaging in risky behaviour (alcoholism, prostitution etc), whilst others are working unsuccessfully to try to make ends meet, but leaving children unsupervised during the day.
- The influx of urban migration has resulted in a growth in squatter, or ‘slum’ settlements, marked by severe overcrowding, ill-health, poverty and violence.
- A rapid population increase,
- An unresponsive employment market,
- An under resourced educational system,
- Increased pressures on peasants and increasingly uneconomic smallholdings in the rural sector.
Inevitably all over the world some children and young people turn to the streets as their primary medium of survival.
John asks, "Why does my father neglect me? I feel bad about the way my father neglects me as his son just because I was born out of wedlock. I try to think what I can do so that my father will accept me as his son. I do not believe that there are parents who can neglect their children who are part of them. My mother was working at my father’s home as a housemaid. She became pregnant by my father. He fired her from her job due to that pregnancy. He does not want to see me and accept me as his son. It is not my fault to be born, but it is my right to know who are my parents so that they can be responsible for my life as a child.”
Mussa is 14 years old. He says, “I will never forget the way my stepmother treated me. She forced me to sleep on the floor at night though there were enough beds. She used to give me many duties each day and when I could not perform them all she used to beat me; one day she burnt me on my hips with a hot knife. I finally ran away when she put poison in my porridge to try and kill me”.
What we do affects real lives
What we do affects real lives
Recent focus group discussions (2004) with street children and youth revealed that lack of security and identity as a citizen of Tanzania with rights were real concerns. Frequent harassment by the police and general public is justified by the commonly held perception that street children and youth are a ‘security threat’. They are perceived to be social pariahs who thieve, use drugs and are incapable of offering anything positive to society. Because they do not have identity cards they can be picked up by the police at any time; they have no one to bail them out of jail and such juvenile justice cases can take up to a year before reaching court. These are profound violations of human rights, but because street children and youth fall outside of ‘normal’ social networks they have no voice and are easily exploited.
Within their peer group on the streets conflict is a norm. Power relations between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ are manifested through sexual abuse. The weaker children are raped and when they become more powerful they then rape their peers. Drugs are increasingly used by the children and youth to blot out the cold, hunger and fear that is part of their lives.
It goes without saying that accessing food, medical care and clothes poses a daily challenge to these children and youth.
Could you live on the streets?
Adam says "It hurts me when I remember. When I was on the streets I could not sleep because I did not trust any one and was scared because I saw the way other kids were being treated. One night one boy, Isenga was crying. I saw the man called Koko raping him. I decided to run from there. I also saw the dead body of the street boy called Fogo. The other older boys killed him in a fight over money. I did not believe that there are human beings who can behave like animals. It hurts me when I remember.”
What are the consequences?
The individual and social cost of marginalized urban children and youth is both caused by, and results in, weakened communities which hinder national development.
- There is little awareness amongst the Government, public and civil society that marginalized children have an economic cost now and that addressing the issue holistically has an economic benefit for the future.
- There are few safety nets for at risk children in Tanzania. Those that do exist respond primarily to the basic physical needs of street children, without addressing their psychosocial needs, breaking cycles of conflict, or equipping them for independent living. Few childcare workers have experience in the principles and practice of positive youth development and so are ill-equipped to effectively support children in their care.
- Many children and youth who have grown up in residential care centres or on the streets do not acquire adequate education, life, workplace and relationship skills and consequently become socially dysfunctional. Limited skills and prospects give them little chance of a secure livelihood. Many become involved in hazardous child labour (prostitution, mining, selling illegal goods), criminal activity, and/or drug and alcohol abuse. Their inability to take responsibility for independent living also hinders their ability to access to social safety networks, further jeopardizing their ability to meet basic needs and access services. Many become trapped in a cycle of poverty; their wasted potential contributing to the ongoing impoverishment of the individual and of society.
- The draft Children’s Statute currently making its way through Parliament encourages family based care for at risk children. To date there has been an over reliance on institutionalization and a failure to explore alternative ways of working with marginalized children. There are no formal procedures used by Social Welfare departments for identifying foster carers, for making placements of at risk children, and for training and supporting carers. Through its reunification work with extended families Mkombozi sees much potential, but also that their financial and emotional capacity is being stretched to its limit when asked to care for children who have been abused and / or street living.
- Until recently the Government has seen the role of NGOs as social service providers, but the climate is changing as central Government takes on more responsibility for social services and poverty alleviation and there is scope for NGO’s to collaborate with Social Welfare Departments in developing a functioning foster care programme where street children undergoing family reunification can be cared for in a familial context rather than in residential institutions.
Current gaps in services
The following gaps in services were identified by part time street children in 2003:
Mkombozi sees a real gap in services for street girls and interventions that address substance abuse (including alcohol) amongst children and their adult carers.
- There needs to be a mental shift amongst policy makers that street children are a manifestation of communal dysfunction, not an isolated problem. Interventions need to be informed by this and to also focus on the immediate, underlying and structural causation. Civil Society is not well-placed to focus on structural changes and the Government capacities must be harnessed at this level.
- Whilst knowledge about numbers and causation is important we must always see street children as individuals. One approach does not suit every child and their individual needs must be responded to on a case by case basis.
- We are never going to remove all children from the streets…this needs to be acknowledged. Rather focus should be on ensuring that the best interests of all vulnerable children whether in the home or the streets are upheld.
- We need to think of alternatives to residential / institutional care…for many children on the streets their peers become their families and breaking these ties is yet another trauma in their lives. We need to explore fostering, street based work and halfway homes for youth entering the world of employment.
- Money needs to be spent on social welfare and community development. Funds need to be allocated at local level together with intensive capacity building amongst the implementing staff within Government Departments (Social Workers, Community Development Workers etc.).
- There needs to be a range of interventions that respond to the many complex needs of street children of different ages, genders and psychosocial, educational and physical needs.
- The fact that the majority of part time street children in Arusha and Moshi come from neighbouring slums emphasizes the need for intensive community based rehabilitation and interventions for at risk children in these urban neighbourhoods.
- A more holistic approach to community development needs to be undertaken, with a focus on community and familial support that would address much of the causation of street children. Services for marginalised children need to be taken back to families and communities, rather than remaining in residential centres. Intensive family based support is expensive and time consuming. However, given the personal and economic cost to society from having children fall through social safety nets it is important to allocate tax revenue to social services provision and to focus on skills development, resource allocation and empowerment to those working in the field, whether they are Government or private sector personnel.
- Non-attendance at school is a primary causal factor driving children to the streets. A two pronged approach needs to be undertaken that addresses both the need to re-enrol and supervise the school attendance of part time street children already and the need to undertake preventative work with schools, communities and families to reduce the number of children excluded, dropping out and playing truant from school.
- Mkombozi and other actors in the community and government need to address the issue of youth unemployment since it will have a significant impact on social and economic development in Tanzania over the medium and long term. Government and NGO’s need to think creatively on how they can access youth on the streets and in our slums to ensure that they gain appropriate workplace and life skills.