September 04, 2012
Tanzania kicked off a programme on Saturday (September 1st) to take more than 3,000 homeless children off the streets of Dar es Salaam and return them to their homes, officials told Sabahi.
Social workers are surveying the city street by street and picking up all underage children, said Monica Mwaikenda, one of the social workers participating in the programme.
In the first phase, the government will remove all children off the streets and place them in shelters by the end of the month, she said. The second phase, which will go on until the end of the year, will involve connecting them back with their families.
The programme is a continuation of the National Plan of Action for Most Vulnerable Children, which has provided children with temporary shelters, schooling, and connections with their parents or other family members since it started in 2006.
Last month, Assistant Commissioner for Social Welfare Rabikira Mushi announced the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is sponsoring the project.
Most homeless children in Dar es Salaam are runaways who left their villages and towns because of poverty or the loss of family members to HIV/AIDS, according to Doctor Theopista Masenge, a child-health specialist and advocate who works with the state-owned Mbeya Referral Hospital.
While some children left their homes to find jobs in the city, research indicates that others have left their hometowns to escape abusive parents, Masenge told Sabahi. In some cases, extended families are able to absorb those children, but others are left to fend for themselves.
According to a 2009 UNICEF report that surveyed 3,739 females and males age 13 to 24, almost three-quarters reported experiencing physical violence by a relative or authority figure, such as a teacher, or another person close to them prior to age 18.
About 25% of females and almost 30% of males reported experiencing emotional abuse by a relative or authority figure, while between 4% and 5% of females and males reported being threatened with abandonment as a child.
In addition, nearly 30% of females and 13.4% of males reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual violence before turning 18.
Executive Director of Legal and Human Rights Centre Helen Kijo-Bisimba told Sabahi that the initial programme was underfunded and social workers did not conduct exit interviews with the runaway children before placing them back with their families
Kijo-Bisimba said children must be provided an alternative to returning home to abusive parents.
She said homeless children have untold stories that deserve to be heard, and the reasons that forced them out of their homes should be addressed before attempting to reunite them with their families.
"Some parents are extremely brutal to their children. Not all street children come from poor families, but rather some are terrified by parents, forcing them to run away," Kijo-Bisimba told Sabahi.
Kijo-Bisimba said a lasting solution to homelessness among children must address the root causes behind the phenomenon. "[The children] should be asked what they want done for them to go back to their families, and depending on their answers, there will be a solution."
Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children Sofia Mnyambi Simba said that despite some criticism, the project has yielded positive results.
"This project is continuous. We have carried it out successfully for the past five years and this time, our development partner UNICEF has accepted to support our efforts to speed up the process -- not because we have failed, but because they support our success," Simba said.
Adnary Cyprian, 13, a homeless boy who sleeps on Posta Mpya Street in central Dar es Salaam, told Sabahi he ran away from his family because of an abusive father.
"My father got married to his second wife and we were all living in one house. He developed the habit of beating us whenever he came back drunk at night," said Cyprian, who is originally from Dodoma.
"I started hiding behind the front door. Then, when he came in, I passed by him to go out without him seeing me," he said. "This continued for about a year, then my friend told me we should follow his brother in Dar es Salaam. We boarded the bus without fare, but thank God the driver was kind enough not to throw us out along the way."
Cyprian said life in the streets is harsh, and homeless children are sometimes called thieves, even if they have not stolen anything. Most of the time, street children eat leftovers from city hotels or buy food whenever they get money through begging, he said.
He said the three years he has spent on the streets have been very hard, but he prefers being on the streets to going back to his family.
"If they are gathering us to go to school, even now I am ready to go, but if they plan to send me back to Dodoma, I would rather die here," he said. "I want to go to school, where I will study hard and become a member of parliament after getting the qualifications."
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