|Voices of the stigmatised: listening to the street children of Tanzania|
What are the links between HIV, poverty, education and gender inequality? How have structural adjustment and cost-sharing affected vulnerable children in Tanzania? Are policy-makers able to address the serious inequalities and vulnerabilities faced by the growing number of children working the country’s streets?
A paper from the University of Hull presents findings from ethnographic research in northern Tanzania. With almost a million people who have died from AIDS and an estimated million more cases, the disease is compounding Tanzania’s economic problems and placing an enormous burden on the surviving, economically active young people. Most of the estimated 730 000 AIDS orphans are being cared for by extended family members. However, many carers are too old, young or ill to meet the needs of orphaned children.
The distress and social isolation suffered by children before and after their parents’ deaths is intensified by the shame associated with AIDS. Children orphaned by AIDS are at risk of being denied access to schooling, healthcare and inheritance and property rights and they may be shunned by their relatives. Customary laws that deny a widow the rights to inherit her deceased husband’s land have devastating consequences for those who lose their father first.
For children orphaned by AIDS, running away from home to seek opportunities in the informal urban sector is a rational survival strategy. Listening to their voices, the author found that:
- Three quarters of the children said it was family poverty that had forced them to leave home.
- So great is the stigma that few children even mention AIDS.
- Emotional vulnerability and financial desperation make street children vulnerable to sexual exploitation, abuse and survival sex – boys and girls are at great risk of themselves becoming infected with HIV and perpetuating the cycle of poverty and AIDS.
- Seventy per cent of street children are boys – most of the twenty street children projects in Tanzania do not provide for the needs of girls.
- Many street children find it hard to access healthcare services.
Many orphaned girls become urban domestic workers. The exploitation and the physical and sexual abuse they suffer are a serious hidden violation of the rights of the child. Vulnerable to unprotected or coercive sex, girls become infected at a younger age than boys. They are often first to be withdrawn from school when the family experiences poverty. For girls whose parents are unable to pay school fees, entering into a sexual relationship with an older man may be the only way to continue education. Girl-unfriendly environments in some schools mean that girls who refuse teachers’ advances can be humiliated, given low marks or beaten. Pregnant schoolgirls are often expelled.
The author calls for:
- ensuring that policy measures aimed at assisting children orphaned by AIDS are based on a wider definition of ‘social orphans’ (thus including those whose parents are not able to provide care) in order to avoid stigmatising
- political will to greatly increase proven cost-effective, community-based approaches to caring for orphans in their home environment
- NGOs working with street children to do more for girls and become more sensitive to the gendered experiences, vulnerabilities and needs expressed by street girls and boys
- much greater advocacy for the rights of all children, and particularly girls, to education, healthcare, participation and protection from exploitation.
‘Poverty, HIV and barriers to education: street children’s experiences in Tanzania’, Gender and Development, vol. 10, No. 3, pp51-62, by Ruth Evans, November 2002 Full document.