Creating a Brighter Future for Child Domestic Workers in Tanzania | CNN
Mercy Esther was eight years old when she left home.
Raised by her grandmother in rural Tanzania, Mercy Esther and her siblings were born into poverty, sometimes without money for food, let alone schoolbooks. When their grandmother is approached with a job offer for Mercy Esther in Kenya, promising to send money home, she accepts. Money can help Mercy Esther’s siblings. May they have a better future.
The job offer turned out to be a lie – the first of a series of false promises that would deprive a young woman of her childhood and her family.
Mercy Esther was born with a deformity in one foot that caused an apparent limp. On the streets of Nairobi, she and other children were forced to beg. She was told to pretend she could not walk in order to arouse the sympathy of the audience. Every day, the money you made is taken from her.
One day, while begging, Esther is approached by a woman of mercy who offers her housework and more promises: a new home, pay, and good treatment. She went with the woman, but instead Mercy Esther was abused and received no money for her work. It will be six years before she escapes.
With the support of the Nairobi police and the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments, Mercy Esther has returned to the country of her birth, but without details of the village where she grew up, the authorities have placed her in the care of domestic worker organization WoteSawa, which runs a shelter. Trafficked children in Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria, in the north of the country.
“Tanzania is a beautiful and peaceful country, but there is a dark side,” said Angela Benedicto, the organization’s founder and executive director.
She added, “Many people live in poverty, and forced labor is a very big problem.” “The most common form of human trafficking in Tanzania is domestic servitude, where young girls are forced to work in homes. They face abuse and exploitation and are not paid for their work.”
About 1 million children—mostly girls—work in household chores in Tanzania, according to the nonprofit Anti-Slavery International.
WoteSawa was set up in 2014 and each year takes in around 75 children who have fled human trafficking. Space is tight: two kids sleep on a bed. Some stay longer than others, particularly those involved in criminal cases, Benedicto says, because prosecutions can take time. To date, the nonprofit has helped hundreds of survivors, but the needs are greater than the resources available. Benedicto dreams of building a bigger sanctuary for more children.
Its mission is to empower domestic workers and defend their rights. It is an issue close to her heart. She herself is a former domestic worker. “I was abused and exploited, but I was able to speak out,” she explains. “Many domestic workers, they cannot speak out. Who will speak for them?”
“I am using my story to tell them, don’t despair.”
WoteSawa means “all are equal” in Swahili. The children are housed in the shelter and given counseling and legal support. They also receive instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and in vocational skills such as needlework. Benedicto said reintegrating children into education is in line with efforts to reunite children with their loved ones, “so that when they go back to their families, not only can they help themselves, but they can help their families.”
Lydia lives in the Ngara region in the mountains of western Tanzania. She left home to become a domestic worker at the age of 16, but was beaten by her employer and not paid for her work. She escaped and was helped by WoteSawa, where she learned to sew. Lydia returned to her family with a sewing machine provided by WoteSawa and today she works as a seamstress and dreams of having her own shop.
“She makes enough money to support her family,” said Benedicto. “Her dream is to help young girls learn how to sew. She has a plan to give back to the community.”
In addition to helping survivors of human trafficking, WoteSawa works to prevent this from happening. Benedicto coordinates with the bus depot agents to search for the young children, and with the local police who have powers to intervene.
“My job is to make sure that the crime of human trafficking is completely stopped. Through education we can achieve (that),” said Police Chief Juma Juman. “We have to educate families. We have to educate the victim herself. We have to educate the community as well in general.”
When Mercy Esther arrived at the asylum, she was reluctant to give the name of her village because she feared she would be trafficked again if she returned there. But she eventually changed her mind.
CNN with Mercy Esther through the Poland-based Kulczyk Foundation, which supports WoteSawa.
WoteSawa manages to find her family, and takes her grandmother and siblings to the shelter. It’s been eight years since they last saw each other. “It was very moving,” Benedicto said. “They cried, they hugged. I think both of us were very emotional. We cried tears of joy.”
Mercy Esther is still uncomfortable with the idea of returning to her village and has chosen to stay at the shelter until she is older, skilled enough to start a business to help support her family.
“Its future is very bright,” said Benedicto. “I can see that she will be a light to her siblings.”