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In the United Republic of Tanzania, children continue to experience high rates of poverty and child labor.
Shehzad Noorani/UNICEF
Girls & Women

More Than 100,000 Girls in Tanzania Work in Domestic Servitude in Slave-Like Conditions

Tens of thousands of girls in Tanzania should be going to school, playing with friends, and spending time with their families — instead, they are working in homes, often in conditions that resemble slavery.

According to a national child labor survey, nearly 111,000 Tanzanian girls are domestic servants. And while the Guardian reports that the luckiest of those girls also get to attend school and are paid enough to help support their families — for most, these are opportunities that were promised, but have never been given.

Many of these girls, lured by agents with such promises, are trafficked into servitude.

Around 28% of Tanzania’s population lived in poverty, surviving on $1.90 or less per day, in 2012 — the last year for which the World Bank has data on the country. As Simon Ngalomba, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, explained in a Huffington Post op-ed, the rate of poverty and a poor school system have created the conditions that have made it possible for millions of Tanzanian children to forgo education for work.

Take Action: Girls’ Education Is The Key: Help The Global Partnership For Education Send Girls To School

Only a quarter of Tanzanian children attend secondary school, according to UNICEF, while close to a third of children under the age of 15 in the coastal African nation work. According to an International Labour Organization survey conducted with the Tanzanian government, 4.2 million children in the country are involved in child labor.

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And many of those working children are girls who were tricked and then trafficked into domestic servitude. In fact, the US State Department said that the trafficking of girls into this form of modern day slavery is one of Tanzania’s top human trafficking issues.

A US State department report said that the people and agents who trick girls and their families into sending their daughters away do so under the guise of “the traditional practice of child fostering — in which poor children are entrusted into the care of wealthier relatives or respected community members.”

Read more: ‘There Are Many Other Kids Here’: One Syrian Boy Tells His Story of Child Labor

Once the girls are beyond their parents’ reach, they are forced into domestic servitude, often in tourist hubs like Zanzibar.

In Zanzibar, “there are hotels, attractions and money,” Aisha Iddi, a programme manager international organization ActionAid Zanzibar, told the Guardian. “So parents think if their daughters go here, they can expect something good.”

But the accounts by girls rescued from domestic servitude paint a very different picture.

“My employer promised my parents that she would send me to school to attend vocational training. Instead, she forced me to be a house girl,” one young woman told News Deeply. “I was not given time to relax or take care of myself,” she said, explaining that her employer both physically and verbally abused her.

Iddi told the Guardian that the girls forced into domestic servitude are typically wholly dependent on their employers for everything.

“There is no school. No salary. No playmates. They are treated like slaves,” a coordinator at a shelter for child domestic workers in Zanzibar told the Guardian.

Read more: This Child Slave Was Sold for $7 in India. Now She's Telling Her Story

With no resources and no one to turn to, girls in these situations are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. An officer of Zanzibar’s child protection unit told the Guardian that the unit encounters many children who were raped by their bosses while serving as domestic workers.

The US Department of Labor said that the government of Tanzania made efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in 2016, but that those efforts were minimal. And while the US State Department recognized the significant efforts the government has made to improve policies to eliminate trafficking, it still said that the country does not yet meet the minimum international standards for the elimination of human trafficking.