When a complicated society kills a girl’s innocence [Archives:2008/1214/Reportage]

December 8 2008

Ola Al-Shami
“I get up early in the morning to clean cars at street intersections,” Fatima Bint Ali, a seven year-old girl, said. “I work with my brother Ali so as to be able to buy breakfast.”

Sociologists say that a girl like Fatima is usually forced to work on the street, and may feel oppressed and hated by those around her. According to sociologist Afaf Al-Haimi, the family is the main reason for pushing girls like Fatima toward the street.

Social studies have proven that Fatima is probably acquiring bad habits on the street. She doesn't go to school because there is no law to prevent these children from working on streets during the school time.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in Yemen has no precise statistics according to Safia Al-Saidi, director for Working Children Rehabilitation Centre.

According to Al-Saidi, female child labor is about to reach twenty percent of the total percentage of child labor in Yemen. This number is increasing and Fatima is one example of these homeless girls.

Fatima's brother Ali, twelve years old, said, “I study at a school which is too far from my work in this intersection. I work to save money so that I can complete my studies because my father is disabled.”

“We don't have a house. We spend all day on the street and when night comes we go to a cheap hotel to sleep. We don't have any other solution,” he said.

Neils Nieman, a researcher specialized in child labor, said, “The direct solution is the best thing. I first establish contact with a child on the street and, when he trusts me, I start to support him and encourage him to go to school. I also supply him with food and clothes. This is the best way”

However, NGOs depend on studies and have their own policy to deal with Fatima or any working child.

Naseem Al-Rahman, UNICEF representative, said, “We don't have precise information on female child labor. Most of it is hidden due to cultural norms and goes unreported.” He added that UNICEF doesn't deal with children directly, but rather conducts studies and accordingly forms programs to help them.

Fatima after all is a victim of a complicated society. To those she encounters, she intones, “Nobody helps me to go to the park, although I usually work near it. I want to wear nice clothes and go to play with the girls there.”

Despite Fatima's pleas, the policy of organizations concerned by female child labor in Yemen continues to be to conduct research, then help girls like Fatima. Afrah Hammad, media representative in the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, explains that the nature of their work is principally to draw policies to enhance the study of female child labor and to support the gathering of facts related to these girls' situation in Yemen.

Consequently, Fatima must either wait until these studies are completed or until she finds a volunteer to support her plea to be treated as a human. Al-Haimi wishes that the families of girls working on the street would take better care of them and look out for them more. She also stressed that, if a girl's work is important, parents must focus on education for it is the only guarantee for a better life.