Working Children in Yemen: A Generation Prone to Disaster [Archives:1999/48/Reportage]
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
3rd in a Series
Of course, there are other factors – social disintegration such as parents separating, divorce, polygamy, etc. – which play a pivotal role in this respect. Finding themselves in a turbulent family environment, children leave their homes and start searching for work. Some fathers even marry two or three times. Being unable to pay all their kids’ expenses, they naturally force their children to beg or work.
It is also found that some kids get fed up with schools, the boring syllabi and the monotonous way of presenting them by largely unqualified teachers. In addition, children may be unable to afford school tuition fees, which increase continuously. Therefore, they drop out of school and start looking for better alternatives. The absence of a policy of compulsory basic education aggravates the situation. Besides, the rising number of qualified, but jobless, university graduates, makes most people come to the conclusion that education is of no economic value since it doesn’t necessarily lead to employment. So, they think the best way for a better tomorrow for their kids is for them to work and be self-dependent. I met a little child named Mukhtar Ali in the city of Taiz and I asked him why he works. He told me that he sells newspapers so as to help his father and because his father wants him to be self-dependent. When I asked him whether he studies or not, he replied saying sardonically,”Damn education! I don’t have time to graduate and if I finish my schooling, will I get a job?”Under the pressure of need we find a good number of children leave schools and are bogged down in an endless struggle for sustenance. We find, therefore, that around 45% of Yemeni children are out of school.
Because of drought and hard living conditions in villages, people seek the cities in the hope of finding better conditions. However, they get forced by hard economic conditions and increased needs to have their children work in order to face the hard life in cities and to keep their bodies and souls together.
Jobs Performed by Children
As I mentioned previously, most of the laboring children in Yemen are involved in agricultural activities. However, visiting some of Yemen’s cities, one cannot fail to see children spreading all over the streets. Estimates of the number of children involved in street work in Yemen vary considerably. This is not surprising given the informal nature of street work, its seasonal variation and the inability of traditional survey methods to capture many of its dimensions. Yemeni NGOs estimate that there are around 7,000 children on the streets of Sana’a alone. Others put the number more conservatively at around 3,000. Most agree, however, that largely as a by-product of increased economic hardship, the number of children street workers is on the rise in all the country’s urban centers. Although there are homeless children living on the streets of the major towns in Yemen, especially in Sana’a, most children working in the streets have places, which they define as ‘homes,’ to go to.
The work performed by children in cities varies widely. Some work by cleaning car windshields at intersections while some work as street vendors of many goods and articles including; newspapers, water, house supplies, cassettes, fruits and vegetables, etc. Others work as waiters in restaurants, in car and carpentry workshops or as collectors of bus fares. Still others work as beggars or in the construction industry.
Conditions of Working Children
Article 19 of the Basic Labor Code (Act No. 141 of 1978) promulgated in Aden proscribes the employment of children prior to 16 years of age unless they have completed basic education or are granted a special Ministry permit. Labor Law No. 5 of 1995, however, doesn’t specify a minimum working age, a major shortcoming in terms of its effectiveness in protecting children.
The results of a Radda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children, an NGO) survey suggest that many working children in Yemen begin working at a very young age. Almost all chidden included in the sample began work at or before the age of 10, and many began working as early as 6 or 7. Children working at such extremely young ages are obviously particularly vulnerable to various forms of hazards and abuse and their normal development is clearly at risk. Children working on construction sites may carry heavy loads that may result in skeletal damage and/or impaired growth. Children working in brake repair shops may be exposed to asbestos, a known human carcinogen. While those working in petrol stations may be exposed to benzene. Those working in workshops, garages and other industrial sites are likely to be exposed to respiratory diseases stemming from air that is polluted with dust, smoke and hazardous vapors. Ergonomic problems are increasing since many child laborers must maintain awkward body positions for extended periods time. Those working in streets may be liable to physical abuse and other forms of abuse and violence, exposure to cold, infectious diseases, car fumes and cars. In addition, many are denied the opportunity to benefit from any formal schooling.
Article No. 45 of the 1995 Labor Law states that the working hours of children must not exceed 7 hours per day, 42 hours per week, and that they may not be made to work for more than four continuous hours.
Article 48 proscribes children working overtime or during official holidays..
Results of the Radda Barnen study, however, revealed that most working children sampled were forced to work very long hours in direct contradiction of the government’s own law. Fully 40% of the sample of working children work an average of 11-17 hours a day, and 42% worked an average of 6-10 hours a day. Many were found to work 7 days a week.
Continued next week
By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
Yemen Times, Yemen