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Legal loopholes endanger children’s lives

IT’S a sunny and hot midday Saturday at Mlimani City.

The sweltering heat does not deter scores of people thronging the stateof- the art shopping mall.

Vehicles of different makes and types, depicting the opulence of the owners stream into the mall one after the other.

Children on the other hand, mostly seated in the back seats of these vehicles, are wearing faces of excitement, joy and are in high spirits ready to embrace games of their choice, shopping, eat ice cream or a favorite meal.

But, a notable common characteristic is that most if not all of the kids in the cars are not buckled up.

Parents have limited options since Dar es Salaam’s open spaces are facing a problem of invasion and conversion for residential or commercial purposes.

There are very limited areas where children could go and play free of charge without any disturbance.

And, most children have resorted to playing along the streets, increasing risk of accidents and conflicts to the children and among members of communities in Dar es Salaam respectively as cited in a study by Ahmad Hassan and Felister Mombo titled, ‘Urban Community’s Participation in Conservation of Open Spaces of 2017.’

This has pushed most parents with good financial abilities to take their children to different recreational spots, facilities and malls like Mlimani City, where they can safely play and enjoy their free time.

But, while they are worried about the safety of their children at playgrounds, they are not concerned about the kids’ safety in the vehicles they will be using to take them there.

Deadly roads Tanzania’s roads are no longer safe; They are among the most notorious for the number of fatalities and serious injuries that take place every year due to a whole different reasons ranging from reckless driving to legal loopholes, among others.

As it is not human nature for people to go out and plan to be involved in car crashes, it is no longer a surprise in Tanzania to find out that a friend or close relative you have just had a conversation with a few minutes ago has passed away in a car crash.

But, it is more risky for children who throng parks, beaches, malls and many other places in their parents or guardians’ vehicles unrestrained.

The danger even increases when they travel for longer distances along the country’s major highways where speed increases.

Much as almost every middle class Tanzanian is trying to own a car, most of those with families have not placed their children’s safety at the forefront, with the purchase decision posing greater danger which may result in road crashes.

Children pay the price Frequently, children have become victims of these mishaps and every year, many are either seriously injured killed or lose their parents or caretakers to road crashes.

The World Health Organization (WHO), has declared road traffic injuries to be the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years, signaling need for a shift in the current child health agenda, which has largely neglected road safety.

It is also the eighth leading cause of death for all age groups surpassing HIV/ AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrhea.

In most cases, the burden of road traffic injuries and deaths is disproportionately borne by vulnerable road users especially children and those living in low-and middle-income countries, where the growing number of deaths is fueled by transport that are increasingly motorized.

WHO further estimates that by the end of 2018, about 82,000 children aged between five and 14 years died in traffic crashes.

According to the Head of Legal Department at the Traffic Headquarters, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Deus Sokoni, the Police Report of 2018 showed that on average, two children die each month and four others injured in traffic crashes for reasons including failure to use appropriate car seats for children.

“The 2018 Police Report on road traffic accidents shows that 21 children died and 48 otherswere injured and they belongto the 7-12 years age group.

Out of those who died, 12 were females and 9 males, whereas those who were injured included 32 males and the remaining 16 were female,” said ASP Sokoni.

The magic seat The United States Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that proper use of child seats could reduce infant deaths in car crashes by 71 percent, and deaths of children between the ages of one and four by 54 percent.

Reports from other countries have shown that appropriate child restraint systems are specifically designed to protect infants and young children from injury during a collision or a sudden stop by restraining their movement away from the vehicle structure and distributing the forces of a crash over the strongest parts of the body, with minimum damage to the soft tissues.

Child restraints are also effective in reducing injuries that can occur during noncrash events, such as a sudden stop, a swerving evasive maneuver or a door opening during vehicle movement.

The effect of child restraints varies depending on the type of restraint used.

A child up to 4 years of age has a 50 percent lower risk of injury in a forward-facing child restraint and 80 percent lower in a rear-facing seat.

This compares with injury reduction of only 32 percent when an adult seatbelt is worn.

A child’s body is not as durable as an adult. Much of a baby’s skeleton is made of soft cartilage that will eventually turn into bone.

This makes him more vulnerable to injuries during a crash, particularly since the organs are not as well-protected as those of an adult.

Some other factors that make car crashes particularly dangerous for children include brain and spinal cord damage, they are more dangerous in children, whose brains and bodies are still developing.

A child’s small size usually makes it easier for even a relatively light bump of a vehicle to send them flying, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Legal loopholes In Tanzania, at a certain point every expectant or newborn parent has struggled with shopping for baby’s clothes and other important gears, but very rarely has it come to the mind of many to consider buying a child car seat.

Such could be accompanied by many reasons including lack of awareness on the importance of owning child car seat or issues of affordability and many others, but the apparent reason is because the country lacks legislation on child restraint use.

Enacting a comprehensive law on child restraint systems will help reduce the impact of road crashes on children in the country.

Elaborating on the legislation, ASP Sokoni noted that the country’s law is silent on child car seats therefore people are not obliged to comply.

Among the components which were observed in the Road Traffic Act of 1973 was the area of child restraints.

The main objective is to protect the life of a child.

In recognizing the importance of the provision in the protection of a child occupant, he insisted that the move was supplemented by the UN Resolutions on Road Safety, which recommended for the amendment of the law and the important provision to be included.

He pointed out that the movement first came up in 2011, but the aspect on child restraints emerged in 2015.

Several studies were conducted including going through similar laws in other countries and decided that it should be included in the law reform proposal.

Paradox of half passengers and legal reforms In the process of looking at the rights of a child on the road, it was also realized that the law is depriving the rights of a child whereas Section 39 (4) (a, b) of the Road Traffic Act of 1973 provides that a child who is under the apparent age of three years and who does not occupy a seat shall not be deemed to be a passenger and any two children, each of whom is over the apparent age of three years and under the apparent age of twelve years, shall be deemed to be one passenger.

“Why should two children be counted as one, and this pushed us further to recognize a child who is involved in a crash as a single soul, unlike what is currently stated in the law. And, thus include a provision on child restraints in the proposal,” added ASP Sokoni.

But, again the proposed legislation will take into account categories of vehicles that will be compelled to have child restraints and these will be private cars only, to avoid chaos.

Because, he added, if it happens that such a provision includes commercial passenger vehicles, it will bring about a lot of problems to the drivers for they will not be in a position to predict how many children will board the vehicles and thus create disaster.

Alternatively, it has also been recommended that if a child is not riding in a private vehicle on a particular day, there is no need for the driver to go around with the restraint in the car.

To be continued . . .

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Mwandishi: MAUREEN ODUNGA

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