Child employment: the most painful phenomenon [Archives:2004/732/Community]

April 26 2004

Yasser Mohammed Al-Mayyasi
Child employment is a phenomenon that many countries suffer from, particularly third world countries in which this phenomenon is widespread.
The phenomenon is generally linked usually to the decline of the economic and social situations. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has disclosed that the number of working children, in different work fields, is more than 250 million in the world today.
Indeed, childhood issues are the most painful to the international conscience, and have become the most important indication of the future.
In developing countries, the magnitude of the phenomenon has reached a very disturbing extent, because the societies of such countries, particularly the ones that are undergoing transformation into civilized societies, are suffering from social and economical crises.
The exploitation of children, due to their poverty, has evoked the concern of many researchers, who have looked into the causes of the phenomenon and the life-circumstances of working children.
According to 1990 statistics, there are 3 million children in the work force in the Arab world, of which 750 thousand are girls. These children are forced to do different kinds of work like vending, car washing and working in restaurants or shops.
As of the early nineties, this phenomenon started spreading vastly, along with many new political and economical developments. In Yemen, where the situation is not much different from the rest of the Arab countries, the phenomenon became very obvious and started casting its shadow over the job market. It provided the market with an unskilled and unqualified workforce. As indicated by official statistics, there are about 250 thousand Yemeni boys and girls among the work force in Yemen.
Many of them are concentrated in big cities, particularly Sana'a, Amran, Ibb, and Taiz, whilst small percentages scattered in the rest of governorates.
The main reason behind this phenomenon in Yemen was the sharp economic transformation that accompanied the economic reforms, the opening of the local market, and the decline of living standards along with the decline of individual incomes.
The phenomenon sharpens at times of school holidays. A few of those children go to work in workshops that can still endanger their lives. Most of the time, they are underpaid by merchants, who tempt them with a little money to sell their merchandise in the streets. Few of those children get lucky enough to establish a relation of mutual financial benefit.
The phenomenon becomes a real danger without a doubt when it involves girls. That is due the tremendous magnitude of the exploitation that these girls undergo, especially the ones that work on the street.
An academic study has indicated the difficulty of stopping the child employment phenomenon in Yemen. Nonetheless, it has emphasized the possibility of decreasing its dangers.
The study, which was conducted by doctors from the Division of Social Medicine in the Medical School of the University of Sana'a, has showed that the declining economic situation in the country will leave many families with no choice but to force their children to go to work. It has also indicated that many of those working children are subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and that the majority of them don't get vacations or breaks during work, not mentioning that they don't work under contracts and, therefore, work injuries can seriously affect them physically.
It has also been disclosed that many of those children, particularly those who come to work in big cities, sleep in their workplaces, usually stores. This frequently places them in danger. In addition to that, they are open to harsh treatment from their bosses and live in fear of salary deductions.
The study has stressed that child employment is a direct result of both poverty and the large size of the Yemeni family, which forces children to look for jobs in order to help their families and relatives.
Child employment will continue to be a problem, and the harsh economic situation will also continue to forces children out onto the job market. Nonetheless, the responsibility towards these children will always be a problem, which everyone must do something about.