Changing contexts of deference to elders, children's rights and sexual exploitation of children in Tanzania

Date of Completion

January 2008


Anthropology, Cultural|Anthropology, Medical and Forensic




Regardless of the centrality of political and economic resources in the constructions of power, this research argues that the notions of power are contested. Exploration of the relationship between deference to elders and the vulnerability to childhood sexual exploitation with 105 young women has shown that certain actions like sexual intercourse may transmit symbolic power. Ironically, the growing poverty and increasing inaccessibility to income earning opportunities that affect Tanzanian men and women equally also provide alternative routes for women to create their new roles. Unlike in traditional communities where elders monopolized hegemonic power due to their control of ancestral rituals and clan resources, today women can turn to formal education, technology and the media for examples of alternative survival routes including unconventional ones like survival sex. This research employed informal and structured interviews to test the hypothesis that continued deference to elders within the changing context of increased urbanization, nuclear family system and paid childrearing, increases children's vulnerability to sexual exploitation. Elder interaction, understanding of child sexual exploitation, access to support network, perception of self-esteem, importance of filial respect, rural/urban background, education levels and family types, were among the examined childhood experiences. The data were analyzed for emergent themes of understanding and prevalence of child sexual exploitation, power and control, and sexual exploitation vulnerability. The results supported the hypothesis by showing that conditions of deprivation increase children's vulnerable to sexual exploitation and the model explains 39.6% of the shared variance. The contribution of this research is twofold: taking the primary step to explore the role of childrearing contexts in predicting vulnerability to sexual exploitation and ascertaining that Tanzanian children are vulnerable to sexual predation regardless of where they grow up. This is because the cultural practices that subordinate women and children have remained strong in both rural and urban areas. This dissertation is presented in seven chapters: introduction, review of relevant literature, social and cultural background of Tanzania, methods and goals, analysis and results, discussion, and conclusion.^