While significant steps have been taken to improve the legal framework for the protection of the rights of children in Tanzania, many children are still vulnerable to violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse. Commonly, the very institutions and individuals that are supposed to protect children – teachers, police, and relatives – are cited as the perpetrators of the violence or abuse.
The Law of the Child Act, approved by the Tanzanian Parliament in November 2009 and the Children’s Act, passed by Zanzibar’s Parliament in March 2011, enshrine fundamental rights of children and lay the foundation for a child protection system that will oblige a range of bodies to prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation of children.
Until these new laws were passed, legal protections for children on the Tanzanian Mainland and in Zanzibar were scattered among many statutes that provided scarcely any protection for children at risk.
These laws for children effectively domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was ratified by Tanzania in 1991. They address such fundamental issues as non-discrimination, the right to a name and nationality, the rights and duties of parents, the right to opinion and the right to protection from torture and degrading treatment.
The laws also lay out the system for ensuring justice for children, whether they come into contact with the legal system as offenders, witnesses or victims.
The Acts also contain provisions relating to custody, guardianship, access and maintenance, foster care and adoption, children and health services, and children in residential establishments. They define processes to ensure protection for children without families, including international adoption.
Tracking the evidence
Tanzania is committed to ensuring that the rights of children are respected. Nevertheless, the challenge remains to use and translate laws and policies effectively to deliver equitable and lasting results for children.
Child protection issues intersect with every one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – from poverty reduction to getting children into school, from tackling gender inequality to reducing child mortality. There is little hope of achieving most of the MDGs if children are not protected from violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse.
Recent research supported by UNICEF into violence against children in Tanzania and the care of children living in institutions or who come into contact with the law define the scope of the challenges ahead and help determine the most effective responses.