“Why aren’t you playing like other kids? Why aren’t you sleeping, it’s only 7 a.m.? Why aren’t you in a summer camp like all the other kids?”All these questions and others came to my mind when I met the children who were working in Ramallah’s street market yesterday. Do these kids know their basic rights? Do they know their right to play, to rest and to go to school?
3.7% of Palestinian children are involved in child labor (Labor Force Survey (2010)) but most of us “are getting used” to seeing these kids in the streets, washing cars, selling gums, fruits, vegetables, etc. We forget that these kids are the future and the next generation, who will, hopefully, build a democratic and an independent Palestinian State. Although 3.7% might seem a very small percentage, it is significantly large. The 3.7% of children who work in the West Bank might only have a great role in the future, if they are given the potentials and rights that every kid should be given.
The subject of child labor has interested me for a long time. It is unfortunate that child labor still exists in most countries and that one in seven children in the world is involved in a kind of labor.
That’s why I insisted on taking part in the campaign organized by the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian Police. Each Sunday, for the next 4 weeks, we will go to a place in Ramallah where many children work. This week, we went to Ramallah’s street market which is called “Hisbeh” in Arabic.
Most of the workers there live in refugee camps. For instance, I went to Qadoura camp (for refugees from Lidda and Ramla) in Ramallah last week and met one of the families there. All men in the family work in Ramallah’s street market.
The first children we met this weekend were selling gum and clothes outside the street market. We started asking them about their names, their ages and their residency. I felt they were afraid of us and started asking the policeman not to arrest them. He explained them that he wasn’t going to arrest them but wanted to help. Personally, I was against the idea of having about 8 policemen with us, since this can easily frighten the children and make them think they did something wrong. Moreover, all people started talking about this and many children left their workplace.
Then we entered the street market. We were looking for children who were less than 15 years old, because according to the Palestinian Labor Law, “it is forbidden to employ children that are less than 15 years old.”
The negative aspect of the law is that it does not mention children who work for their first-degree relatives, and most of the children we met said they worked with their families. Hence, many of these children find themselves deprived of their rights and cannot demand them. This is especially important since, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, around 63.0% of children working in Palestine work for their families without getting paid.
All the children we interviewed told us that they worked only in the summer vacation. One kid was very annoyed. He said: “I work because I have nothing else to do at home in the summer. Ask my father to let me stay at home and I will. You should deal with my father, not with me.” This statement of the 13 year-old kid did not surprise me. I knew we had to deal with the parents first because most of them oblige their children to work. That is why we called the parents to come to the police station and sign a pledge stipulating that they should not allow their kids to work. And if their kids continue working, the parents will be punished.
What really surprised me was when a parent said: “child labor is in the culture of my family. I used to work as a child and I want my son to learn a craft from his early ages.” This man was neither poor nor ill and did not need his child to work with him. He was trying to raise his child the same way he was raised. Hence, it becomes important not only to educate the children about their rights but also to educate their parents who think they know what is best for their children. I won’t be surprised if this kid doesn’t go to school. Some parents see in education a waste of time and prefer to have some of their kids contribute to the family income. What these parents don’t know is that their child might be very intelligent and might have a very good career in the future that might not only benefit his family but all the society.
Other parents talked about the harsh economic situation and the difficulty to provide their families with the basic needs. One parent said : “ Go ask the government to help us and I will not let my child work.” Another parent, who appears to be very sick, said: “I want a legal statement that allows my 14 year-old child to work with me. I have three diseases and my health is getting worse every single day. My kid is the only one who can help me.”
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), “the estimated cost of the elimination of child labor is US$760 billion over a 20-year period, but the estimated benefit in terms of better education and health is over US$4 trillion.” We should all fight to put an end to child labor and teach these innocent children their basic rights. As the executive director of the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has once said: “…in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity.”
Posted By Nur Arafeh
Posted Jul 3rd, 2012