Yemen: Child labor – The Shame of a Nation – Yemen Post
While Yemenis pride themselves for their family values, hundred of thousands of families across the country continue to rely on their children to bring an extra income, to the detriment of their education, well being and development. And while the issue has been plaguing Yemen as far as memory can stretch, all agree that no modern state should permit its children from being sold out to the pillar of necessity. In a recent report, ILO – International Labor Organization – revealed that 1.3 million children in Yemen were involved in work related activities; an increase of 400,000 compared to 2011 when IRIN estimated the number of working children in Yemen to be just below a million. [See More]
While harsh economic realities, inflation and security have had devastating effects on child labor, sociologists are warning that the issue runs deeper than that and has more to do with a social trend.
Although Yemen signed ILO labor code back in 1999, having pledged to review its labor laws and regulations to protect both children and their families, no law in the country clearly identifies a minimum work legal age. Yemen legislation only established limitations on what industries children can be hired into.
Yemen’s children are put at much greater risk than anyone seems to realize or wants to admit. A vast majority – over 70% – of underage workers will be on some degree subjected to abuse — sexual, physical or mental —
Activists are now calling on the state to act and recognize the urgency of the situation as Yemen’s children are this nation’s future, and on them lies the hopes and promises of tomorrow.
Child Labor – unbearable hardship
Under ILO Labor convention Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age and Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor which Yemen ratified, 14 is the minimum age for employment and children under the age of 18 cannot be employed in hazardous work.
ILO 2012 survey identified that 1.3 million of children in Yemen – age between 5 to 14 – and additional 300,000 – aged between 14 and 17 – were working in conditions unfit for their age, essentially in the agriculture sector and construction.
Widespread poverty – over 40% of the population lives under $2 per day – means that families had to withdraw their children from full time education -sometimes to save school related expenses – to send their children earn their daily bread.
Over worked, often mistreated and underpaid children are easy preys for the unscrupulous.
Social worker Fatma Suneyni told the Yemen Post she felt Yemeni children had become slaves — slaves to their nation’s poverty, slaves of a system which fails to protect them and slaves to their own personal economic realities —
Roberta Contin project director for Access-Plus – part of development organization CHF International, which combats exploitative child labor in Yemen – said in 2011 “Most children have to work to support their families, while the poorest families simply cannot afford school fees or uniforms, so they send their children to work instead.”
As well as taking children out of work, Contin says it’s vital to change attitudes to child labor. To that end it has run awareness programs, including training Imams to incorporate child labor issues in their religious services.
Mona Salem, Manager of the Child Labor Combat division at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor explained how depending on their settings – rural or urban – what industries children were most likely to be involved in.
“In Yemen’s cities, children often work in restaurants, peddling goods on the streets, or collecting garbage for recycling. It’s not uncommon to see boys working as car mechanics or in metal workshops, surrounded by dangerous equipment.
In rural areas children usually work in agriculture. Many are involved in the cultivation of qat — a natural narcotic that’s legal in Yemen — often working alone at night to guard qat plants from thieves.”
Fatma Suneyni a social worker, explained that because children were seen as easily disposed commodities, it meant they were often left out to work in such dangerous conditions; — heavy machinery or chemical agents such as pesticides — that accidents were common and many.
Doctor Abdel-Mageed Kulaib in Aden – an oncology specialist – explained that while he worked in Sana’a, the capital he noticed the handling of pesticides from an early age increased the risk of skin cancer and breathing related conditions in adult life.
Child Labour – Abuse becomes the norm
In 2007, Jamal al-Shami, Chairman of Democracy School – local non-governmental organization told IRIN “The situation [in the country] is miserable. Child labor is on the rise due to the deteriorated economic situation of most families.”
Five years later, with ever dire economic circumstances Yemen’s children are that much more worse off, with school drop-out rates on the rise and percentage of illiteracy sky-rocketing.
Child psychologists and sociologists are also ringing the alarm bells on the ill effects child labor will have on society as it has been proven that taken away from a nurturing environment children will often turn to violence as a coping mechanism, perpetuating the cycle of violence.
“Violence begets violence. As child workers are subjected to violence – whether at home or work, they will become aggressive towards society,” rightly noted al-Shami.
In 2007, Wadah Shugaa, deputy manager of the Safe Childhood Centre in Sana’a, said, citing grinding poverty and violence at home as the primary causes, “Over the past five years, we have seen an increase in the number of street children in Yemen and with it an increase in sexual abuse.”
She added “If they have been on the street for a long time, the chances of them being sexually abused is around 90 percent.”
In 2012, Fatma Suneyni says things are worse than ever with boys and girls being forced into prostitution for a handful of dollars. “Because of the social stigma and shame attached to sexual related crimes, children almost never speak out, allowing their abusers to go on abusing others.”
“Hundreds of children are also being sent over to Saudi Arabia by their families, sold out as cheap labour to less than scrupulous individuals,” added Suneyni, lamenting on the government’s inability so far to address the matter.
While politicians are discussing how power will be shared in post-Saleh Yemen, it is a nation’s children which are waiting in the shadows … Waiting for someone to light up the darkness and put an end to their nightmare.
Yemen Post Staff