Factors affecting Yemeni street children [Archives:2006/976/Reportage]

August 28 2006

Anwar Murgham
Aged between 6 and 18, Street children can be categorized according to their type of work, the time of day they work and their living situation.

Most children working or begging part of the day or night are enrolled in school. They study in the morning and work or beg at night, returning home to spend the night with their family.

Children who work during the day usually are school dropouts or those who didn't attend school at all. Most are from rural areas and live away from their family. They either come to cities with relatives or alone and spend the night in inns or living in groups in apartments.

Yemeni street children work in the following professions:

– Street vendors selling clothes, home appliances and other commodities on streets and at traffic lights/intersections.

– Car washers in street intersections and car parks.

– Porters carrying commodities on their shoulders or on carts working in general open markets and fruit and vegetable markets.

– Workers in restaurants and cafes.

– Fare collectors on buses.

All of the aforementioned jobs are done by male street children, while female children work selling various types of bread (maloug, kudam and lahouh) beside small specialized restaurants and markets and selling foodstuffs like eggs and potatoes. However, females represent only a small percentage of street children.

Whether male or female, Yemeni street children beg on streets, at intersections, bus stops, in front of mosques and other public places.

Numerous factors have led to the street children phenomenon's increase in Yemen, including social factors related to family circumstances and educational and cultural backgrounds.

Family circumstances

These include family differences regarding divorce, desertion, etc., unemployment of a family supporter or death of a family supporter, with the remaining family members' inability to meet life demands, thus causing them to push children into the labor market to help meet their needs.

Educational factors

Among these are lack of clear philosophy for a developed education, lack of developed curricula and the fact that primary education doesn't qualify children for the labor market, as well as vocational education's inefficiency and its inability to handle more students desiring to join such institutions.

According to August 2005's Education Pointers in Yemen issued by the Supreme Council for Education Planning (SCEP), the number of Yemeni students enrolled in vocational education represented 1.6 percent of total students enrolled in secondary education and 1.7 percent were enrolled in technical education among those students enrolled in universities.

The spread of unemployment among university graduates and dire situations employees experience is leading students to abandon education and tend toward the open market.

Dominant customs and cultural factors

Yemen is a traditional society with a high illiteracy rate of approximately 55.7 percent, particularly among women. According to the SCEP, the figure is even higher, at 74.1 percent. Further, numerous inherited customs pay no attention to children's mental and physical abilities.

Additionally, there's a dominant culture in Yemen regarding making children work at a young age so they'll become accustomed to it, with some families considering children working as early manhood. There's also a complete absence of media, which should spread awareness of children's rights and the risks involved in children working.

Effects of the street children phenomenon

1. Educational effects

Children's educational levels are affected because they find no time to study, which may cause them to fail and subsequently, drop out.

A new study conducted by UNICEF and the Arab League addressing children's situations in the Arab world indicates that approximately 7.5 million Arab children have no education. According to the SCEP, approximately 1 million Yemeni children aren't in school, most of them female.

2. Economic effects

What children receive from their work is too little when compared to the effort they exert, let alone the lack of training and qualification enabling them to be in the labor market. Therefore, they can't secure their future demands nor improve their living standard.

Increasing numbers of illiterate and unqualified children multiplies the state's duties toward them and further deprives the nation of their role in achieving sustainable development.

3. Psychological and social problems

Street children acquire what's called street culture, including a lot of bad and immoral language and bad habits like chewing qat, smoking and addictions. They also experience absence of care and protection needed at this early age, thus affecting them psychologically.

Violence against street children

Children working on streets are subjected to verbal abuse, violation and harassment, which hurts their feelings and demeans their humanity. They mostly experience such violence from their friends or adults, but sometimes from customers and even government officials.