The Reality of childhood in YemenGovernment’s failure, hard life, and overwhelming despair [Archives:2004/759/Reportage]

August 29 2004

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Our children are the pillars of our future, and hold our hopes to build up this country. When we scrutinize the reality of Yemeni children, we surely feel a premonition of the ugly future awaiting Yemen in years to come.
Despite much media fuss in newspapers, and through workshops and organizations' discussions, the reality is something different. Childcare organizations in Yemen, the Childrens Parliament, child labor fight squads, and child smuggling police have not effected a change on the ground. Figures warn that hazards beset our children, and these phenomena forebode future catastrophes.

Official confession:
The government has admitted its failure to fulfil its primary responsibility towards children and improving their conditions. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Abdul-Karim Al-Arhabi, said last week in his speech before the Childrens Parliament, “The government can not construct schools, nor can it provide healthcare or pave roads. “We are suffering from an increasing population crisis, and a bad education quality, while we have little petrol.”
Concerning the government's role in eradicating child labor, he said, “The government has made strides in child-related legislation. Many awareness programs need to be implemented before the society and responsible authorities can understand the seriousness of child labor.'
Thus we find that the government's role is still limited to papers. It is “ink on paper,” and has not impacted the virtual setting.

Child Parliament:
It is a distinctive experience that children have an assembly that represents them. Yet, the aim of the planners of this initiative is to get foreign funding. “The government makes legislations but does not apply them,” the parliament stated. It called on the government to shoulder its responsibility to safeguard children, and provide free-of-cost education and parks in all corners of the country.
It is something appreciable on the part of the Childrens Parliament.

Proliferation of organizations and more abuse of children:
It sounds likely that soon we will hear the birth of an organization claiming its fighting child smuggling, and does not fight it. Their first ritual they do is to appeal to international donors for funding the destination of which is known.
We need to conduct a probe into private and public organizations concerned with child issues: what they get, what they offered, and what they have done to cope with the risks surrounding our children.
Exaggeration for the sake of pocketing funds is a simple task, but what we should concentrate on is to be able to set up programs to eliminate negative phenomena.

Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood complains of the Ministry of Finance:
The Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood (HCMC), established by a presidential decree, has a pack of plans and programs, but it is complaining about the Ministry of Finance for not handing out the allotments needed for implementing its activities, said director of the HCMC in an earlier interview with the Yemen Times.
As though the bitter reality was not enough for children, new gangs have emerged, smuggling children across the border to Saudi Arabia, and using them as money earners. Not only that, these children are abused by these gangs.
Saudi authorities have returned a great deal of children to Yemen, and national police have caught smugglers with children at borders.
Information indicates that some have been sexually abused, employed in adult jobs, or sent into the street to work as beggars.
Parliamentarian Mansour Al-Zandani has revealed official documents proving the restoration of 3500 male and female children who were smuggled to neighboring countries. This case was described as tolling the knell of danger of the people, government and parliament.
The UNESEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor conducted in May 2004, visits to a border outpost to closely examine the phenomenon of smuggling children to neighboring countries.

Child Labor:
The number of children working in Yemen is estimated at four hundred thousand children. Some 30-40% of them work in hard conditions. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has issued a set of regulations prohibiting jobs that cause health or moral risk, and defined the legal labor age at 14.

Observations in a city:
Children selling items in the streets or on pavements, and even sleep there, are usually seeking out a living. They earn money because their families depend mainly on them. Employers do not know conventions and regulations of child labor. Parents, too, ignore the danger lying in their offspring's labor and opting out of education.
It is observed that children are spending more time than adults working in order to earn money because their wages are low, ranging between YR 100-300 (1-105) daily.
These horrible figures tell us horrible stories about children opting out of school in favour of the labour market, and their immigration from rural to urban areas of work as hawkers, vendors etc. All these observations are due to economic factors. All of them are a warning of a foreboding catastrophe, while the government is inactive!