Urgent need to stop child trafficking [Archives:2004/755/Front Page]

July 15 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Last Monday Monsour Al-Zindani, a member of the parliament and the foreign relations committee, addressed the parliament on child trafficking in Yemen, demanding that the government take action against it.
“This is a very serious issue,” Al-Zindani told Yemen Times. “We are talking about the abuse of children's rights. A lot of the parliament members are behind me to have the government deal with it immediately.”
The Ministry of Human Rights informed Al-Zindani that the official number of children who were returned from Saudi Arabia last year was 3,500. But Al-Zindani believes that the number of children working in the neighboring country is much higher.
“That was only an official number. We expect the number of children working in the neighboring country to be much higher than that,” said Al-Zindani.
Last May, information from Sana'a International Airport, the Yemeni embassy in Riyadh and the Yemeni consulate in Jeddah, showed that a large number of Yemeni children were deported regularly from Saudi Arabia and to Yemen. Commercial airlines that fly twice per week from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, for example, carried between 15 to 20 children being deported from Saudi Arabia on each flight. Yemenia Airlines' daily flights that travel from Jeddah to Sana'a carried between two to 35 children every day.
According to the governor of Hajja province, 2,277 Yemeni children were deported across the border on land from Saudi Arabia last February alone.
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) discovered child trafficking in Yemen a little over a year ago and discovered that many of the children working abroad were being abused. UNICEF reported that some of the children who had crossed the border are involved in begging, theft or prostitution.
UNICEF has said that when some children talked to the organization after they returned, they described abuse and how difficult the conditions that they had to go through were.
UNICEF, in coordination with the Yemeni government, has conducted an assessment on child trafficking and is finalizing the report. It has plans to hold a workshop in Sana'a to discuss the results of the assessment in August, followed by the development of a national plan of action to curb trafficking of Yemeni children.
Abdulkarim Al-Arhabi, Yemeni minister of social affairs and labor, previously told Yemen Times that whilst field research was being carried out, child trafficking may not have developed as far as it has in other countries. He said that there were no indications of organized crime being involved in children traveling to neighboring countries. He also added that poverty was the primary cause of child trafficking.
About 42% of Yemeni people live below the poverty line and around 25% of the population is vulnerable, whilst living just above poverty.
UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor have plans to establish a center for deported children close to the Yemeni-Saudi border in Haradh and are working on educating the public in poor areas about what happens to children after they are smuggled out of Yemen.
“We cannot stop working to end child trafficking in Yemen until the problem is solved one-hundred percent,” said Al-Zindani. “And it is important that all the children in neighboring countries are returned.”