Religious leaders lobby to stop child labor [Archives:2008/1141/Local News]

March 27 2008

By: Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, March 26 ) The Ministry of Religious Endowments and Ministry of Social Affairs & Labor, in coordination with certain imams (Islamic religious leaders), have laid out a practical plan to stop child labor in rural areas of different governorates.

“The imams will give lectures and advise families and employers to stop making children work in risky and banned jobs,” said Mona Salem, director of the Combating Child Labor Unit in the Ministry of Social Affairs & Labor.

Twenty imams from different governorates are being trained this week for three days on how to advocate for children's rights. The training will include teaching the international convention on child rights, and informing the imams of the dangerous jobs Yemeni children are performing.

According to Salem, most of the imams used to talk about childhood and family issues, but only in a general sense. She added that after being trained, they should talk specifically about child labor in order to preserve children's lives. Consequently, the imams will train and lead other imams to do the same in their mosques, especially during Friday sermons.

The project hopes to have a strong impact on the rural communities where there are hardly any formal communication channels.

Last month, 21 advocates were trained by the child labor unit to work as inspectors in 10 governorates around the republic on legal issues regarding child labor. These inspectors will undergo another training session in April on advocacy and community mobilization in order to be equipped to convince families and employers to provide better living environments for children.

Field work will start in May, whereby the inspectors will visit the various governorates to ensure safe working environments for children, and to ensure imams to start lobbying for child rights in the mosques and social sessions.

Most hazardous risks for child laborers

In 1999, Yemen signed an international labor convention which includes article 182 on the worst forms of child labor, some of which include:

(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances.

(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties.

(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

In 2002, the Labor Ministry approved article 45 of the labor code, which grants many rights for child laborers under the age of 14. According to the article, anyone under 14 is not permitted to work under any circumstances. Youths over 14 cannot work more than six hours per day and are banned from working at night. They also receive the same rights as adult workers, like safe working environments and leave benefits. In 2004, the Ministry of Social Affairs & Labor defined a list of 72 hazardous jobs to be banned for children in Yemen. However, this promising activity remains ineffective due to a lack of the list's implementation.

“We are trying our best to approach the responsible authorities to activate this article. In order to find an appropriate solution, the Ministry of Labor should coordinate with other relevant bodies to achieve this goal,” said Salem.

Sexual harassment, drowning at sea and exposure to pesticides are the main three risks facing Yemeni child laborers, said an expert from the Yemeni Ministry of Social Affairs & Labor. Children who work in motels are subjected to sexual harassment by visitors, while those working in the sea with fishermen are at risk of drowning. Over 90 percent of child labor is in the agriculture sector, where they are subjected to dangerous chemicals and toxic pesticides.

According to a Yemen Poverty Monitoring Survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 1999, around 56 percent of children who spray such agricultural chemical poisons are between the ages of eight and 10, while 90 percent of children from these rural regions chew qat polluted by these herbicides. The same study shows an estimated 700,000 Yemeni children between the ages of six and 14 work.

Poverty is one of the main reasons behind this phenomenon in Yemen., “whenever poverty in Yemen decreases, children will stop working,” said Salem. “But until that time, we will try to stop children from working in dangerous jobs and risky environments.”