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Group Battles Child, Female Exploitation in Tanzania

Child trafficking, prostitution and the abuse of child domestic workers are growing concerns in Tanzania. It is primarily girls and young women who fall prey to unscrupulous employers and pimps. But there is hope for these girls and young women thanks to the Kiota Women Health and Development Organization, which provides skills training, counseling and other services in centers across the country. Cathy Majtenyi recently visited two of those centers and files this report for VOA.

Fifteen-year-old Hasinati Bakari says she cooked, cleaned and washed the clothing of her first employer's family for three months, and was paid only $10 for her labor. And at her second job, she worked from 4 a.m. until almost midnight cooking and selling food.

She says she was supposed make $8 a month, but was never paid.

Even worse, she says her employer tried to sell her to male customers for sex.

"One day, two men came to where I was selling food. They started touching me," she described. "I was afraid and I started to cry. They said, 'Ah, this is a little girl, she does not know anything, let us get our money back."

Halima Mohamed is another 15-year-old former domestic worker. She tells of a similar experience following the death of her employer. "One week after she died, her husband's sisters decided that I should marry the man [of the house]. The man agreed to marry me," she said. "They called me and told me what they had planned. I just kept quiet. I told a lady about the situation, and she rescued me from the house."

Halima and Hasinati are two of about 36,000 vulnerable girls and young women who the Kiota Women Health and Development Organization, or KIWOHEDE, has helped since 1998.

Twenty-two centers across the country offer health care, counseling and skills training in tailoring, batik making and food processing, among other activities.

The organization sends some girls back to school. Ten of the 22 centers have residential facilities.

Justa Mwaituka is KIWOHEDE's founder and executive director. She says a major goal of the organization is to help former child prostitutes and domestic workers to become economically self-sufficient.

The products that they make are sold at the various KIWOHEDE centers.

Mwaituka describes the early days of KIWOHEDE, when she and her colleagues reached out to child prostitutes. "We used to go on the street. We used to go in local brew shops. We used to go in brothels. We used to go in casinos and bars just to make some interpersonal relationships with them and tell them what we want to do with them," she explained.

Tanzania has signed international conventions outlawing child labor and has established 14 years old as the minimum age of employment. Workers under 18 years are supposed to do light, non-hazardous work only.

Mwaituka says that, although Tanzania has a minimum wage, people who employ domestic workers can legally deduct expenses such as food and rent, thus reducing or even eliminating the pay.

Poverty drives many girls to leave their homes, typically in rural areas, and they come to Dar es Salaam and other cities with promises of a better life.

Mwaituka says parents of these children are involved. "The parents are the perpetuators, actually," she says. "They are dealing with the pimps and the traffickers who come from the city. It is because of their ignorance, they do not know what will happen."

Instead of viable employment, the girls often find themselves much worse off than before.

But with the skills and counseling they get from KIWOHEDE centers, the girls and their mentors are confident of a bright future ahead.