“All was well in our home until my mother, followed almost immediately by my sister, ran away from my father’s drinking problem. Soon after he married another woman, who through beating would finally chase me to the streets.”
This is how Charles Godfrey, born in Old Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region 20 years ago, became a street child.
He was among children who recently attended a stakeholders’ forum in Dar es Salaam, for the launch of street children’s report.
Now waiting to join high school, Charles recounts to The Guardian in an exclusive interview: “My stepmother used to make me work like a slave and when I became tired she would beat me mercilessly. Sometimes when I was too tired to work she would deny me food and force me to sleep outside the house.”
Charles was then in Standard Three at Msaranga Primary School. He says his father, who did casual jobs as a mechanic, drinking the little money he earned, never took any action to protect him from the mistreatment, meted on him by his step mother.
In 2004 Charles left home for life on the street, saying it was hard and dangerous.
“I met other children on the first day, but could not join them. Each one was fighting to survive and they regarded me as an invader. I resorted to scavenging which made me earn some money and eat at Mama Ntilie’s,” he explains.
“But there were times when I had to steal in order to buy a meal,” Charles said adding that the most important thing that a child in the street fights for is food and shelter.
He says he stole several times from different people, earning him lock-ups and beatings from the police.
“On the streets we were treated as criminals all along,” says Charles, adding: “This attitude does not make the street children feel that they are appreciated as human beings or are part of the society.”
He had to snatch clothes hanging from people’s homes or pick second hand clothing from sellers.
“When passing by the market we sometime could buy one or two garments, when we had no money to spare, on seeing clothes hung out for drying, we would ‘make our pick’, always watchful that we did not get caught,” he explained.
“At one time one of our neighbours back home in Old Moshi met me on the street, but never bothered to talk to me,” he said.
One day, he met his father in the street. “He took me aside, consoled me and tried to convince to go back home,” he says.
“But by then I had already lived in the streets for three months. I heeded my father’s call and returned home, thinking life had changed,” he says. But it was not to be. His stepmother resumed the routine of no work, no food, no shelter. “I decided that it was better for me to live in street than stay at home with my parents,” he explained.
“One day, a good Samaritan met me and said there was an organization, known as Mkombozi, helping children who lived in the streets. I went to their place where I met other young men. We lived there for a while before they sent me to school,” he said.
Charles, who had dropped out of Standard Three at Msaranga Primary School joined Moshi Primary School where, with the help of Mkombozi, he finished Standard Seven.
He joined Msaranga Secondary School also in Moshi in 2008 where he finished Form Four scoring Division III last year. He is set to join high school this year.
He says the hard life on the streets kills any dreams of a bright future that children may have, citing his case: “I was only focusing on how to get food and a place to sleep. Until Mkombozi, came in to support me with shelter, food, clothes and education from the day I left the streets to when I finished Form Four last year. It will remain my greatest liberator,” he said.
He now lives in a rented house, and happily takes part in community affairs, a chore he would have never thought of during his days of living on the streets.
“I had a chance to attend a meeting with other children from Mkombozi and we talked and they said they wished the government would do more to address the problems of street children.
He said street children have the same rights as all children and therefore it is the duty of the government to protect them especially from child abuse which is a common problem.
Community Development, Gender and Children deputy minister Ummy Mwalimu said the government has created a policy and legislative framework that meet children needs.
She added it will ensure that their rights are realised as enshrined in various international and regional conventions to which Tanzania is signatory.