Safia Al-Saidi to the Yemen Times: “The number of girls working on the streets increases every day” [Archives:2008/1215/Reportage]

December 11 2008
Safia Al-Saidi
Safia Al-Saidi
Ola Al-Shami
The work environment in streets, markets, and other places is not safe for children. However, the possibility and need to make some money lures a large number of children, many of them girls, to the streets to work under dangerous circumstances. Many children flock from their villages to the cities to work and there are no clear statistics as to their numbers.

Research findings according to the Working Children Rehabilitation Centre (WCRC) indicate that the more girls working in the street are treated violently, the more hatred and isolation they feel. Safia Al-Saidi, the director for the centre, was interviewed by the Yemen Times to shed light on solving female child labor problems.

What has the center recently provided for working children in general and for female children specifically?

During the period between February 2007 and March 2008, we registered 1,469 children with an orphanage, a government social services center and we sent some children back to their villages. We supported 46 sick children to seek treatment at hospitals, and in Eid we provided 152 children with new clothes. About 20 poor families also benefited from food aid during Ramadan, and 173 children were provided with books and school supplies.

What are the statistics for female child laborers in Yemen?

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor don't have precise or updated statistics on child labor generally and on girl labor specifically. However, we can say that there are from 400,000 to 800,000 working children in Sana'a. The Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood had conducted a study last year in eight governorates which estimate that there are at least 30,000 spend most of their time in the streets, 60 percent of which work and sleep in the streets. I think that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor intend to conduct a survey in 2009. One thing is for sure, and that is that the number of these girls increases every day.

How can the center follow these girls and help them solve their problems?

This center was established in 2003. Since then, we have been able to bring in 1,500 working children. Girls make up about twenty percent.

Female child laborers work at roundabouts, in markets, or near restaurants. These are the girls we are trying to follow and encourage to join school. Our focus is on education, but we also try to teach them other vocational skills such as first aid and dress making.

Is there friction between the centre and these girls' parents?

Our main policy is to build and encourage good relation with families. Parents must confirm their agreement for their daughters' participation in the different activities we hold in the centre.

How do you deal with female child laborers in prisons?

We try to help them, especially if they are still young. The biggest problem is that most of these girls have no birth certificate, so when police arrest them they imprison them without any consideration to their age or circumstances. This is a hindrance if we are to help these girls.

How does the government cooperate with you?

The Sana'a city's authority supported the center only partly in the beginning, but now provide us with full support.

What are the major difficulties the center encounters?

The center faces many main problems. The first problem is when we want to involve girls in our activities most parents are opposed because of their ignorance. The other problem is our restricted budget. It seems that the necessity of cooperation between the center and the NGOs is of utmost importance.

What are your future plans to reduce female child labor specifically and child labor in general?

The number of girls working on the streets increases every day and poverty motivates parents to agree to them doing so. We need to provide special extensive courses to educate girls and teach them technical skills. We aim to empower both girls and boys through teaching them income generating skills.

Anything you want to add?

My final word would be of two parts. First, I would like to urge parents, even if they are in need and sending their daughter to work in the street seems to be the only solution, to pay more attention to her education so that she can work and be educated. Second, I urge the government to provide and support programs to eradicate poverty focusing especially on the disadvantaged, namely the poor and disabled.