Cities are becoming home to a growing proportion of Africa’s children. Already one in four lives in an urban centre, and the proportion is set to rise in the coming years. Growing up in a city or town can offer these children the best and the worst. The worst for the children is often as a result of those who do not prioritise protecting them, and in the worst instances exploit, abuse or neglect them.
The urban settlements of Temeke and Mbagala are typical of other wards in the Dar es Salam and the Community for Children’s Rights conducted a study to explore individuals’ emotions, hopes and feelings about childhood, whilst also seeking to identify those who actively protect children as well as community-based child protection mechanisms.
While it is true that city dwellers often enjoy services, infrastructure and amenities that are more readily available than to those living in rural areas, the ‘urban advantage’ is not shared by all city dwellers. Sometimes, the increased numbers within cities, as a result of further educational and employment opportunities, actually pose a major stress on the physical and social environment where children live. Population pressure erodes the amount of open space where they can play, intensifies car traffic and the danger of road accidents and causes air, soil and water pollution that threaten children’s health. People living in these wards have to prioritise work in order to secure their children’s basic needs and this can put pressure on mothers to leave children with other carers or to take their children out to work with them. Such children often lack supervision, stimulation, proper nutrition and may be put at risk by their own carers.
However, the study found that despite the urban challenges most people are civically minded and ready to protect children, doing so in their civic capacity rather than a professional role. Many expressed evident knowledge about child development and their responsibilities to their children. Child protectors feel sorrow and pain in the face of a child’s suffering and that primes them to respond; they believe that every child has the right to be happy and safe. Citizens speak of hope for their children to become successful in the future and that emerged as one of the reasons they are taking their children’s early education seriously.
It also became evident, through this study, that the impacts of violence to children are now better understood in comparison to previous studies. Awareness of the impacts from physical harm, such as mental distress which may involve the child experiencing depression, fear, guilt, and suicidal ideation were highlighted by the participants. Unsurprisingly, the study recommends a peaceful mechanism of disciplining children in comparison to corporal punishments.
Where there are high numbers of children within wards, that can act both as a protection mechanism for them but can also attract a level of risk. Despite this, it is clear that ‘civic’ protectors of children are now more common that previously. We need more of these citizens who are ready to protect children; so that they can educate others and amplify messages of protection and education.
Whilst we have in-place the National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children, can we honestly say that we are doing enough to ensure urban settlements are as safe as possible for the children living within them?
With children making up half of our Tanzanian population, I believe that if One child could have one Citizen 4 Change, in support of them, then we can change our country for the better.
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