I’ve been making tons of mental notes about Tanzania these last three months, notes about daily life, about customs and culture, about little tricks of the local trade. But if I must name one remarkable difference between my new home country, Tanzania, and my old host country, China, it’s not the crazy traffic or the language or the pace of life or the lack of skyscrapers – although all that is pretty remarkable, too – but it’s simply the ratio of adults to children. China living gets you accustomed to many things, none of which is more apparent, in retrospect, as the effects of the One Child policy.
Walking along main streets of major cities in China are foreign couples with adopted Chinese babies in their strollers. Often baby girls, otherwise babies with disabilities, babies with cleft palates or odd growths or other facial deformities that make them, sadly, unwanted in a country where only one baby is allowed per couple. A scene all too familiar to me, especially living in Guangzhou where the paperwork for most Chinese adoptions for western countries take place.
Even within Chinese culture, the One Child Policy is deeply sowing its seed. There is the culture of what the Chinese are calling their “little emperors”. Sets of parents and double the sets of grandparents who dote over just one toddler. Spoiled rotten by their families, with no one else to share the spotlight. Given all the education, all the toys, all the attention in the world. In a culture where it is customary to take care of your parents and grandparents when you reach adulthood, young men and women are suddenly expected to handle the burden – financially and emotionally – of six elderly family members.
Of course the image of giving away girls, of a skewed population, of abortions, of a spoiled youth, of a disregarded geriatric population, it’s not exactly an image of China that authorities are necessarily trying to promote. So advertisements in the form of large painted murals are commissioned in rural areas, telling people not to abort girls, with sayings like ‘Girls are Good too’ – yet despite this warning, Elementary and Secondary School Classrooms still have male:female ratios of 2:1, sometimes even more skewed. And because taxes can penalties run high for those with more than one child, most families, especially in rural areas, adhere to the law.
In contrast, here in Dar, population control is the last thing on anyone’s mind, and as a result I find myself constantly surprised at the number of kids I see on an everyday basis. Children, heads shaved no matter boy or girl, playing in the streets, walking along roads, teeming out of schools, running in and out of city crevices. Families with three, four, five kids – something that simply didn’t exist in China. I think back to my trips to more impoverished areas in China, where in the dark stone buildings of villages, just one or two babies sat in the laps of groups of a dozens of elders.
The population in Tanzania has almost quintupled since the 1960’s, from just over 10 million to almost 50 million today. There are more mouths to feed, more water to source, more clothes to find. More space in already cramped neighborhoods, more housing needed in what is already shoddy construction. More garbage litters the streets. More plastic bottles clog up the sewars. More education, more competition, more consumption, more crime. In a culture where men often take more than one wife, and these wives in turn berth many more than the western average of two children, the country is experiencing a population boom that I’m not quite sure it’s ready for.
Elementary education is subsidized, but higher education – secondary education – is not. Even when kids are able to attend classrooms, if you don’t attend a private school, you’re pretty much out of a good education. Even in these esteemed (and expensive) private schools, the teachers are poor. I recently learned there are approximately 3 million orphans in this country, anywhere from aged 1 to age 20. And not enough orphanages to hold them all.
There’s a lot for me to learn, still, about the status of population growth and the future of these children in Tanzania. I’m only beginning to scratch the tip of the massive iceberg of this issue, obviously. The Chinese one-child policy has its detriments to both human rights and the Chinese culture, and by no means am I advocating such a policy for the world. But on the flip side, what good is a country if it is bulging at the seams and can’t provide for itself? I haven’t quite grappled with this issue enough to propose a solution, but when I do, I’ll let you know.