Collapse of a whole generation [Archives:2004/736/Viewpoint]

May 10 2004

Last week, I was quite happy to bid farewell to the first ever Yemeni delegation to participate in an international congress on child labor. Yemen Times was able to coordinate the participation of a Yemeni girl, who was once a working child, and her chaperone in the Global March against Child Labour Congress to be held during 10-11 May in Florence, Italy.
I wish here to extend my greatest words of appreciation and gratitude to the Italian embassy for their great assistance in making this participation possible.
Yet again, I cannot help wondering why we are not paying enough attention to this important issue. We know very well that the percentage of child labour in Yemen is increasing by the year. In fact, a prominent professor in one of Sana'a universities has clearly noted that the percentage is quickly approaching 50%, which is truly staggering and calls for immediate action.
The problem is that those children grow up to be with no academic background, and no skills that would enable them to earn money for a decent living standard.
Consequently, such children could potentially become criminals, who could add to the instability of the country.
In whole, working children could end up in total loss, losing their future, and causing great damage to the country's reform plans to build a modern Yemen.
The statistics on child labour in Yemen are indeed truly frightening and need greater attention by our government and the international community.
Statistics show that in 2000, more than half a million economically active children, including more than 200,000 girls and 300,000 boys between the ages of 10-14, representing around 20% of this age group.
But if we extend the age group to 18, then the number will jump to 50% or more.
There are also signs of an incredible increase in number of working children, especially when we note that according to 1993 statistics; there were 79,085 workers whose ages were from 10-14.
It is unfortunate that child labour is common, especially in rural areas. There are incredible numbers of children working in farming and selling goods throughout the country. That is one reason why education in such areas is quite unpopular, causing grave concern about the country's future.
Meanwhile, 32% of the working children are in qat (a narcotic leaf) plantations.
Among the common practices in some areas is forcing child exploitation for camel-jockeying.
Yemen is perhaps one of the few countries of the world where children constitute the majority of beggars and street sellers. In urban areas, children work in stores and workshops, sell goods on the streets, and beg.
In fact, begging in the capital Sana'a is largely carried out by children. There are about 7,000 begging children in the city, and the economic crisis within the country and lack of social security benefits into children, force many families to push their children for begging.
I believe it is about time that we call upon international community to help assist the country rid itself of this evil. We are committed, as part of the civil society to provide all the help we can to expose this phenomenon and seek solutions.
However, unless we exert greater efforts and practice more pressure on our government for reform and follow-up its promises with real action, not much will change.
I have hope that our participation through the Yemeni delegation to the congress will indeed result in positive steps in this respect. I am sure that the future could be brighter if we work together on it.