First Yemeni cartoon illustrates children’s exploitation [Archives:2007/1042/Reportage]

April 16 2007
The panel confirmed the violent conditions in which children grow up, highlighting parents responsibility to preserve their childrens rights.
The panel confirmed the violent conditions in which children grow up, highlighting parents responsibility to preserve their childrens rights.
Ahmed falls down due to his backbreaking work.
Ahmed falls down due to his backbreaking work.
Nisreen Shadad
Cartoons today invade children's world, as well as that of adults. “We find cartoons to be the best way to make children aware of their rights; therefore, we chose it as a means to achieve our goals,” explains Lamya'a Al-Eryani, director of Shawthab Foundation, which is an NGO concerned with child welfare.

“Ahmed's Return” is the cartoon's title and it represents all of those boys sold by their parents to various individuals who train them for work, which not only is unhealthy, but dangerous.

Through this cartoon, Shawthab Foundation, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy, intends to portray children's suffering and the injury parents do when they send their children to work. It also aims to create more awareness among families about children's rights.

Screened for all attendees, Shawthab's awareness cartoon relates the story of a little boy named Ahmed, whose father agrees to send him to another country for a certain amount of money. Being needy and lacking a job obliges the father to sell his son's rights, while granting himself the right to dream of a big house at the expense of another human being's life.

His neighbor repeatedly advises him not to send Ahmed with the man, who has promised to find a good job for him. “He's one of those child smugglers,” the neighbor warns. However, money is dearer to this father than his son.

Ahmed goes with the cruel man, but he isn't alone, as three other children are with him and facing the same fate. The man chooses to walk the desert route so no one will see him smuggling the four boys. While walking, a snake bites one of the other boys, Abdullah, who dies within a few minutes.

It was a very hard scene for the children to watch because they felt unsafe. Tears were brought to the eyes of some child attendees and moved their hearts, as fifth-grader pupil Sami Abdul Malik expressed, “I was sad when Abdullah died.”

The cruel man bribes a border guard to help him smuggle the children. Upon reaching the new country, Ahmed begins working by carrying large stones. He then washes car windows in order to make something to satisfy his hunger.

Something stops Ahmed, who looks through a window as he passes by to see a rich boy who's the same age eating some delicious-looking food. “The contrast we see in this scene between the rich and the poor moved me. I've seen such scenes a lot in Gulf countries,” commented Ann-Marie, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy.

As reality restricts Ahmed's hopes and dreams, he frees his thoughts to go wherever they like. He imagines being one of those rich men wearing very handsome and clean clothes and eating the most delicious food.

However, like a slap, reality awakens him, as he finds himself back with his family. He had been injured badly in a car accident, after which someone knowing his family returned him to them.

Yemen International School fourth-grader Wid Radfan was sorry that a father could abandon his son for money, whereas Mohammed Abdullah, a second-grader at the same school, didn't understand the cartoon or its meaning.

Al-Eryani says the issue must be further enlightened by producing several cartoons portraying all of the issues regarding exploitation in their full guise. Ann-Marie agrees that children face numerous types of exploitation and that while this cartoon depicted economic exploitation, in fact, children face much worse.

Regarding this issue, innocence rapidly may lead to death; therefore, such innocence calls on everyone to understand the facts and factors that lead to selling it, as well as the damage and weariness it leaves behind when a child lacks it.

Fourth grade Azal Hadda School student Amatillah Hassan presented a poem about child smuggling, expressing children's anger and hurt. “Oh Dad, I bear much pain; however, my pain and crying are in vain. I have become homeless in this life. No hope resides in my heart, nor any dream of an immaculate future. My childhood is lost and ghosts in the guise of men have found me as a victim. They stole my childhood innocence and made it as goods sold in the souqs.

“I want to find happiness and love, to live in life full of pleasure. Oh father, don't be surprised at my speech because I mean it. A child has the right to live honorably and walk with dignity. We are gifts and deposits from God; therefore, you are asked to preserve our rights and not break trust,” Hassan's poem concluded.

Although Islam forbids marketing or killing children due to fear of poverty, people still transgress others' rights, Al-Eryani notes.

Many children interact with Shawthab Foundation as it works for children's rights. “An activity like this is very important to make people aware of child smuggling,” comments Al-Hathara School fifth-grader Ibrahim Safawat.

Osama Mahfoudh, a sixth-grader at Al-Yemenia School, confirmed the importance of such an activity, which makes both children and their families aware of the harms of smuggling. “I hope each and every child can grow up among his or her family. I want children to live their age and not work hard jobs that neither fit their age, nor their small, young bodies.”

According to Ann-Marie, this cartoon is the first to address the problems of Yemeni children, but not the first effort dealing with children's issues.

A UNICEF worker building centers based on respecting children pointed out that silence only increases corruption and exploits more children. “Silence only helps those aggressors against children's rights. We must work with children because partnering with them makes them more aware of their rights, building their confidence and preserving their dignity,” he explained.

Presidential political consultant Abdulkarim Al-Eryani also supported the activity. “The child smuggling phenomenon is widespread and international; however, it's a new phenomenon here in Yemen, so we must overcome it while it's at the beginning.”

He continued, “The entire society is responsible for such a phenomenon; however, the family is the first party responsible for child smuggling. Poverty and living in dire circumstances doesn't oblige a man to sell another human being, who also has the right to live with dignity, and it's even worse when this human being is his own child.

Al-Eryani concluded, “I hope every Ahmed, Mohammed and Hassan smuggled from Yemeni borders returns to his family safely.”

“The U.S. Embassy financed our project. We produced the cartoon in Cairo because we still lack the necessary materials to produce a cartoon in Yemen. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy is willing to provide us presentation materials (a laptop, dynamo, etc.) when screening the cartoon in governorates lacking electricity,” one of the organizers explained.

U.S. Embassy public relations officer Osama Al-Anisi explained, “We worked together to choose the Ahmed character as a symbol for all subsequent cartoons.” Carl Chilidey, a public diplomacy consultant working with Al-Anisi, who said that he got involved in such work because the child smuggling issue affected him.

As a contrast, unfair conditions can occur, even among those seeking children's rights. The son of one of the Shawthab's employees reported to his mother that he was sitting in the back, but he wanted to sit in front. Therefore, the parent asked another attending pupil to give up her seat in order to satisfy her son, thereby denying that child her seat instead inspite of her work in children's rights!