Challenges Faces Combating Child Labor [Archives:2001/09/Business & Economy]

February 26 2001

Mahyoob al-Kamali
In cooperation with the World Labor Organization, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training has produced a program that is being carried out to combat child labor in Yemen. Child labor among 12-15 year olds is a growing phenomenon owing to the high rate of families needing supporting, low income of poor families, deterioration in the purchase-ability of the national currency and the sharp increase in price waves.
Sources in the Labor Ministry indicated to YT that the program has the objective of limiting the phenomenon of child labor, preventing children under 15 from working in hazardous and strenuous fields which may render them vulnerable to permanent handicaps and affect their physical and psychological health.
In order to achieve the objectives of the program, the republic is divided into three regions: coastal, agricultural and commercial. In each region a certain kind of child labor is defined. However, what happens in reality reflects the dangers of this phenomenon, posing social, cultural and economic hazards for the whole society.
Volume of Child Labor:
Field surveys reveal that child labor in Yemen is doubling annually due to the increasing number of poor people who, according to statistics of WB, are estimated at 2,6 million.
Mr. Jeer Mershtad, from the ILO, said “Child labor is attributed to certain setbacks and the inefficient education system. The Yemeni economy suffers from the lack of handicraft and technical crafts.”Studies prove that 45% of the labor force is illiterate while internal migration has given rise to family divisions forcing children to take to the labor market.
A study in this regard has estimated that children who are less than 15 make up 50.3% of the whole workforce. That is a high rate that demonstrates the high percentage of family dependents, on average, 5 to 7 individuals.
Of all children in Yemen, 21.1% are involved in economic activities. This high rate poses many associated dangers due to their taking up jobs that do not fit their physical or psychological abilities.
Sordid Exploitation:
A researcher of the Norwegian Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science indicated in a report on child labor in Yemen that employers do not give fair wages to children working in positions similar to those of adults. He mentioned “They are paid less than 2/3 of the actual wages of the post in the market.” The study indicated that this was a bad exploitation of child labor and a suppression of their rights which is banned in all legislation and laws relating to children’s rights.
Surveys reveal that the average monthly income per child is less than $ 20 dollars, that is less than $1 dollar a day, though they are subjected to take up hard activities exceeding 12 hours a day.
Child’s Right to Education:
Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts every body’s right and access to education, statistics show that there is a unbalance in distributing educational services between the town and countryside. They also indicate a high rate of students dropping out from schools and an equally high rate of failure. There is also disorder in the educational balance between males and females. The rate of female students joining basic education levels is very low in comparison with that of males.
Practical Solutions:
The program prepared to curb child labor in Yemen includes promoting awareness of families among agricultural groups to the dangers of children using chemical substances and insecticide. However, this seems to have a very low advantage. It is nothing more than media activity that doesn’t do much to curb or reduce the growing child labor phenomenon.
The problem of child labor requires an agenda of action and pragmatic steps to be taken and implemented to address the phenomenon socially, economically and culturally, especially as this phenomenon is increasing in the course of time.
Legal Protection:
Yemeni Labor Law has made a relatively legal protection for children. However there are still some limitations in the Law requiring amendments to ensure full protection of these vulnerable groups of society. The law has to define the work age in a way that corresponds with the time they finish their study at the basic education levels. It has also to oblige employers to abide by international and national conventions pertaining to upholding children’s rights which support taking measures to save children from suppression, abuse and exploitation in the labor market.
All said and done, in order to limit this ever increasing phenomenon in Yemen, economic measures to raise and develop individual incomes are a must and should be given priority over all other issues to achieve overall development for the local communities. Measures should also be taken to relieve the unemployment rate ensuring free education for children especially at the basic education levels. The factors leading to students dropping out should be studied carefully and tackled. Girls should be encouraged to join schools. Divorce and parental separation should be minimized to ensure a conducive atmosphere for a stable childhood in Yemen.