Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Why is child labour on the rise in Gaza?


By The Palestine Monitor - June 04, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [economy] [Gaza] [Gaza Blockade]

More and more children are working in the Gaza Strip, as the small territory continues to suffering from isolation, chronic humanitarian concerns, and an economy on the brink of collapse. The legal age to work for Palestinians is 15 years, however children have been joining the workforce younger and younger.

With around 2 million Palestinians on some 365 square kilometers, Gaza ranks as the third most densely populated polity in the world. It is isolated because both Egypt and Israel control its borders. Egypt has been keeping the Rafah border crossing closed most of the time. Israel is imposing a sea and air blockade, and monitoring who and what comes in and out of the Strip – severely restricting the movement of people and goods.

“We work to bring food on the table,” say 10-year-old Mazen and 8-year-old Mohamed. The two brothers work in the Midan al-Jundi al-Majhool (Square of the Unknown Soldier ) along Omar al-Mokhtar street, in the fancy neighborhood of al Rimal, Gaza City.

They sell balloons and make about 15 shekels (4 dollars) a day all together. “We started to work two years ago, when our father lost his job,” explains Mazen. Their mother does not work as she takes care of a family of 6 children and her own mother who suffers from a bad heart condition.

Mazen and Mohamed are the oldest children in the family. Their siblings are under the age of seven and go to school – so do Mazen and Mohamed, but not on a regular basis. Both insist that they decided by themselves to come and work in the park just so that the family “would not starve”.

Mazen says he had heard from other children in school that working in the streets was not dangerous. He asked around what he could do and found the balloon business safe and easy. “We buy the balloons, and we sell them, nobody is taking shares in what we earn,” he explains.

The economic situation plays a major role in the significant increase in child labour. Unemployment continues to rise – reaching 42% of working-age population (as much as 65% for women). Parents do not work, or work so little that everybody else in the household has to work. More than 80% of the population relies on humanitarian aid to survive.

The Gaza Strip also experienced 3 wars with Israel in less than 10 years, which left a deep mark on its social fabric. According to the UNHRC, 1,462 Palestinian civilians died during the seven weeks of the 2014 war.

“My dad stopped working after he got injured during the war, he can’t move his arm now,” says Odeh, 13. He has been working in the port for five years. At first, he says it was because he really wanted to be more independent. After his father was hurt, his family relied only on his earnings.

He has a small toy car, decorated with ribbons and shiny plastic strings. Odeh charges one or two shekels a ride. He says he makes 20 shekels (5.50 dollars) a day, sometimes more. He starts working after school and stops around midnight. Odeh walks back home for about 30 minutes and gives the money to his parents. “It pays for everything we eat the next day,” he says.

Labour law enforcement agencies as well as NGOs are trying to tackle this issue but often lack sufficient funds to build a comprehensive strategy.

Several organizations working on child labor in the Gaza Strip, including Terre de Hommes, told Palestine Monitor that one of the ways they prevent child labor is by tracking children who drop out of school.

Schools are often not a welcoming place for children as classrooms are overcrowded. During the last Gaza war, about half of its 520 schools were damaged or destroyed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mahmoud, 13, a rag picker, dropped out of school after the building was razed in 2014. “I liked going to school even though I was not very good at studying,” he recalls. His parents tried to register him in other schools, but the classes were too packed and the shifts system (going to school in the morning or in the afternoon) did not work out for Mahmoud who had to take care of his younger brother at the time. Today only his older sister, who is 16 years old, goes to school.

Another way of fighting child labour would be monitoring businesses more closely to stop children from working in the streets. None of the children Palestine Monitor met in the Gaza Strip said they had ever interacted with a policeman.

Children's NGOs working in the Gaza Strip say they could work with the help of the labour inspectors who visit businesses to check whether children work there – using the data gathered by labour inspectors to contact get in touch with the families of working children. Some organizations offer vocational training for children so they can train and learn skills instead of being cheap labour. Hundreds of children have stopped working in the streets through such programmes.




 

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