Source: REPOA, NBS and UNICEF, 2009, Childhood Poverty in Tanzania
Tanzania has made significant progress towards achieving global and national targets in key areas of child wellbeing, particularly child survival and primary schooling. Yet a full decade of economic growth has only led to negligible declines in poverty rates.
About one in three Tanzanians lives in poverty, unable to meet the cost of essential food staples and other basic necessities like clothing, healthcare and shelter.
One in six Tanzanians lives in households so poor that providing food is a real challenge, especially when prices of basic consumption items rise by only a fraction.
The benefits of economic growth have not been shared equitably. The wealthiest 10 percent of Tanzanian households has benefited disproportionately from the growth spell of the last decade, at a time when the consumption share of the poorest 10 percent was falling drastically.
Poor families living in a state of chronic insecurity are constantly exposed to shocks from which they are seldom able to recover. The effects of poverty and deprivation on children are devastating. Poverty interacts with and reinforces poor outcomes in health, nutrition, schooling, water and sanitation. It makes children vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse, as well as to common ailments and premature death, denying their rights to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental and social development.
Persistent disparities and deprivation
Despite Tanzania’s strongly egalitarian policy thrust since independence, vast disparities persist in health outcomes and access to health services among households of different means, as well as across regions and districts. Similar disparities are present in regard to education, water and sanitation, and protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The persistence of such disparities hampers Tanzania’s efforts to build a solid basis for sustained growth and achieve progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The extent of deprivation among children is far greater than indicated by conventional poverty measures. According to a UNICEF study, more than 70 percent of Tanzanian children suffer two or more deprivations in regard to health, nutrition, sanitation, education, access to information, water supply or shelter. The level of deprivation among rural children is up to three times higher than for urban children.
They are far more likely to be malnourished than urban children on average, even though poor urban families living in a cash economy may find it as difficult as their rural counterparts, if not more, to put food into their children’s mouth. The incidence of severe deprivations among children is also much higher on the Mainland than Zanzibar; about four out of ten Mainland children suffer three or more severe deprivations, compared with two in ten children from Zanzibar.
The depth of poverty varies inversely with the level of education attained by a child’s mother, underscoring the critical importance of investing in girls’ education to break inter-generational poverty cycles. Poverty, in fact, starts in the womb. Poor, undernourished mothers give birth to small, weakly babies. The critical 1,000 days from inception to the first 18 months of life are a time when a child’s brain develops; failing to invest during that crucial period has lifelong consequences. Keeping girls longer in school helps delay sexual debut, teen pregnancy and early marriage. Yet while secondary school enrolment has expanded quickly from 6 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2011, girls still face much greater challenges in completing primary schooling and transitioning to secondary school than boys, especially if they live in rural areas.
Adolescence, in fact, is a period of great vulnerability for too many Tanzanian children. Adolescent girls are often exposed to the risk of abuse and exploitation, with few services catering to their needs. Unemployed youth of both sexes are faced with dim prospects particularly in urban centres like Dar es Salaam, where rates of unemployment among young people are highest. For both children and adolescents, living with HIV, a disability or albinism makes their situation even worse, due to a combination of negative social attitudes and the paucity of services tailored to them.
Patchy and fragmented social protection
Despite the proven record of social protection in helping families overcome vulnerability and reduce poverty, Tanzania has yet to establish programmes at scale to provide income support to very poor families. A tiny fraction of the population is protected against common risks and life contingencies like unemployment, old age, maternity, sickness or disability. The coverage of social security and health insurance schemes is largely limited to formal sector workers, not reaching the bulk of Tanzanians who are either self-employed or work informally. Climate change, rapid urbanization and HIV and AIDS compound the situation. The vast majority of Tanzanians and their children are left to fend for themselves, with increasingly fewer chances to rely on overstretched community support.
In spite of this, social protection is still perceived as an expense that Tanzania can ill afford, rather than as a means to boost consumption among the poor and give them access to essential public services. Progress towards the adoption of a national policy framework has stalled. This happens, ironically, at a time when some of Tanzania’s development partners have agreed to support the implementation of a national social safety net programme and when consensus on the critical contribution of social protection is at its peak around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa.
This situation calls for a concerted effort to advocate with key decision-makers on the positive impact that social transfers can have on the welfare and productivity of poor families, hence on the overall performance of the national economy. Evidence from programmes in countries similar to Tanzania needs to be disseminated to show that considerable progress can be achieved with actions that are both feasible and affordable. Efforts are likewise needed to strengthen the government’s capacity for policy coordination and implementation, with a view to overcome the present fragmentation in the implementation of social protection measures in the country.
Limited budgets for fulfilling child rights
Translating policy intentions into programmes and services that deliver results for children requires resources – human, technical as well as financial. Children cannot study without schools. Students cannot learn if schools have no teachers. Teachers will not be able to impart their knowledge if they lack incentives, are poorly paid or trained, or if there are insufficient classrooms or textbooks. Nor can children learn on an empty stomach or if they miss school as a result of sickness, or if their parents cannot afford the cost of educating them. Removing the barriers that prevent children from accessing core services depends on the availability of resources, whether raised through domestic revenues, borrowing or development partners’ contributions.
Over the years, Tanzania has made commendable efforts to maintain high levels of government spending in education and health. Yet expenditures per child are clearly inadequate and often do not reach where they matter most – down to the school or health facility. The distribution of public spending is skewed towards better served areas and districts in the country, thereby accentuating rather than mitigating existing regional disparities. To complicate matters, critical dimensions of child well-being such as nutrition, early child development and protection against abuse, HIV prevention, water and sanitation, and social protection have not received the attention they deserve in the government budget preparation process.
Of particular concern is the prospect for a stagnant or declining social-sector budget in the face of a persistent deficit and financing gap. Tanzania’s limited revenue base and its need to increase investment in infrastructure to spur economic growth is putting great pressure on its budget, with the risk that social spending will decline. Poor families will be hardest hit, and children are likely to suffer the most as fulfilment of their rights depends so much on public provisioning. Given the country’s newly found riches in the mining sector (gold, oil and gas exploration), it is imperative to help the government find ways of ensuring that the wealth that resides in Tanzania’s soil stays in the country and benefits its people.