Hidden Struggles: Unveiling the Crisis of Child Plastics Waste Pickers in Tanzania 30Apr

Hidden Struggles: Unveiling the Crisis of Child Plastics Waste Pickers in Tanzania

The world’s population is increasing rapidly, and with it, so is the amount of waste we produce. Current official data estimates that the world generates approximately 2.2 billion MSW annually, a figure which is set to increase to nearly 3.8 billion tonnes by 2050. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between population growth and waste generation, and this holds true even in African countries. According to projections, the amount of waste generated in Africa is expected to increase from 176 million tons per year to about 516 million tons per year by 2050. Official data reveals that 90% of waste in Africa is disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills, often leading to burning. Additionally, it is essential to note that 19 of the world’s large stdump sites are located in Africa, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo: A typical plastics collection center in Africa

These data on waste generation signify an increase in waste-picking activities. Waste picking, also known as scavenging, is the practice of collecting, sorting and selling recyclable materials from waste streams such as garbage dumps, landfills, streets or commercial and residential areas. Waste pickers typically gather materials like paper, plastic, glass, metal, and other valuable items discarded by households, businesses or industries. Waste picking is often performed by individuals or groups operating informally without formal contracts or employment arrangements. Waste pickers may work independently or as part of informal networks or cooperatives.

In Africa, waste picking has become a common way for people to make ends meet and cope with poverty. Due to the widespread poverty in the continent, many have turned to waste picking as a means of survival. However, waste picking is not just a means of survival; it also plays a crucial role in addressing the mounting waste challenge in Africa. Despite playing a crucial role in waste management across Africa, the rise in waste-picking activities has brought forth another pressing concern that is often overlooked: child waste picking. The low barriers to entry and the absence of formal education or skill requirements
have made waste picking a widespread activity, attracting people of all ages, including children. Child waste picking is at its very least a vivid example of child labor. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labour is any activity that deprives children (any individual under the age of 18) of their childhood, potential and dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and/or mental development.

Tanzania is no exception to the phenomenon of child waste pickers. When we began registering waste pickers using the ZaidiApp, we stumbled upon a concerning reality: the prevalence of child waste pickers across various regions. As we progressed through Mwanza, Arusha, Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Dodoma, Mbeya, Iringa, Ruvuma, and Dar es Salaam, the data collected was shocking and sobering. In Mwanza alone, we identified 33 child waste pickers. While Arusha and Tanga reported none, Kilimanjaro had 3, Dodoma 58, Mbeya 14, Iringa 31, Ruvuma 2, and Dar es Salaam 24. This trend highlighted a severe issue of children engaging in waste picking, a risky and exploitative form of labour.

Our findings illustrated a clear gender disparity in child waste picking. From the app registrations, we found 22 female child waste pickers and a staggering 143 male child waste pickers. This gap suggests that young boys are significantly more involved in waste picking than girls, raising questions about the social and economic factors contributing to this division.

In his 2022 study, “Socio-economic, Health, and Environmental Aspects of Child Waste Picking Activity at Africa’s Largest Dumpsite,” Taiwo discusses the Olusosun Landfill in Nigeria, the largest dumpsite in Africa and the fourth largest globally. He observes that most child waste pickers at the dumpsite are male, with poverty as the main motivation for their involvement in waste picking as a means to earn a living, a finding consistent with our observations in Tanzania, suggesting that this trend is widespread across Africa. Taiwo also notes that child waste pickers face higher health risks compared to adults due to their
limited judgment, skills, and knowledge.
Prompted by these revelations, we conducted a comprehensive survey across several regions in Tanzania to better understand the scope of the issue. Our survey included 269 waste pickers—79 female and 190 male. This further confirmed our initial concerns: 21 waste pickers fell between the ages of 0 and 17, categorizing them as child waste pickers. These numbers demonstrate the pervasiveness of child involvement in waste picking across different regions.

The involvement of children in waste picking is alarming and requires immediate attention from policymakers, community leaders, and organizations working towards child welfare. This data is not just a statistic, it represents the lives of vulnerable children who deserve better opportunities for growth and development. Concerted efforts must be made to understand the root causes of child waste picking and to create supportive environments that protect children from exploitation and hazardous labor conditions. TakaNiAjira Foundation is deeply committed to empowering waste pickers and improving
their livelihoods, yet it firmly stands against child waste picking as it constitutes a severe violation of human rights. The foundation believes that no child should be subjected to the dangers and exploitation associated with waste picking. Therefore, TakaNiAjira Foundation calls for immediate and decisive interventions from stakeholders to eliminate child labour in waste picking. This includes strengthening legal frameworks, providing educational opportunities, and offering support to families to alleviate the need for children to engage in such work. The foundation is dedicated to working with partners to create a safer, more equitable environment for all, and to protect the well-being and future of every child.

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