Fears over possibly rising number of child labourers

The number of child labourers in Yemen may be increasing due to the country's deteriorating economic conditions, including price hikes, activists and experts have warned. The future of these children is at stake mainly because they leave school at an early age, they said.

[Watch IRIN video on child labour in Yemen or read this story in Arabic]

"The situation [in the country] is miserable. Child labour is on the rise due to the deteriorated economic situation of most families," Jamal al-Shami, chairman of Democracy School, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), told IRIN.

Al-Shami said children now believe they have to work because by so doing they contribute to the family income.

Official figures estimate the number of child labourers in Yemen to be over 400,000. In 1999, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that 19.2 percent of children aged 10-14 were working in Yemen.

Child labour has also increased the school dropout rate. "There are about two million children out of school," al-Shami said, adding that most of them will end up illiterate.

According to Yemeni law, children aged 7-15 are considered juveniles, while internationally a juvenile is up to 18. The government is yet to approve a proposal to make 18 the legal age limit for juveniles.

What is more worrying, according to specialists, are the psychological consequences of the work environment on the child worker. "Violence begets violence. As child workers are subjected to violence - whether at home or work, they will become aggressive towards society," al-Shami said.

Risks

In Yemen, children work as street vendors, in restaurants, bus stations, factories, at construction sites and in vehicle repair workshops. In addition, a large number of children work in the agricultural sector, where they face the risk of being contaminated by pesticides.

Al-Shami said some child workers are exposed to danger at home by their parents, as well as in the street and at work. Children who work as street vendors are often chased away by municipality workers, he said.


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Mosheer Abdu, 16, earns US$1 per day selling glasses and cups on the streets of Sanaa. Grinding poverty has driven many children to give up their studies to earn money for their families

Some children carry heavy objects like concrete and foodstuffs, and this exposes them to risk, according to Col Ali Awad Farwa, head of the women and juvenile affairs unit in the Yemeni Ministry of Interior. "If a child carries more than he should, its body and backbone could get damaged."

Child workers Jamal Jamil Abbas, 14, and his brother had to help their father in order for the family to survive. They work at their father's soldering workshop, which was not a safe environment.

Jamal lost one of his eyes while working in a welding shop. After working in welding for some time, I started to have an allergy. My eyes started hurting. I can see in one eye only now," he said. Jamal hoped to be a doctor or a pilot but his chances of fulfilling his dreams have vanished. "I would like to go to school. I don't want to work. Work is tiring," he said.

Child workers to be counted in 2008 census

Salah al-Ghanamy, financial and administrative manager of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), told IRIN child labour was a big problem requiring serious work to combat it.

He said IPEC, which started working in Yemen in 2000, had been able to establish anti-child labour units in a number of government institutions. It had already established two centres for the rehabilitation of child workers in Sanaa and the southern city of Seyyoun.

He said IPEC had signed an agreement with the central statistics bureau, a government body, to count the number of child workers in the 2008 population census. According to him, child workers centre on Sanaa Governorate, Taiz , Hajjah, Hadhramaut and Aden. Hundreds of children are also trafficked to Saudi Arabia as cheap labour, experts say.


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Young boys in the streets of Sanaa sell fruit to help support their families

Adel Abdulla al-Rimi, 14, is a bus conductor in Sanaa. He was seriously injured after getting involved in a fight whilst at work. The boy was also a victim of trafficking when he was nine.

"I went with a dealer to Saudi Arabia to work as a beggar. On the way we disagreed and he left me in Saada [northern Yemen]. I had to come all the way back to Sanaa alone," he said.

In a session on child labour held early this month, Yemen's children’s parliament said child labour was a problem needing to be solved. Members recommended the government pass laws to punish families that push their children to work; set up centres throughout the country to rehabilitate child workers; and breathe life into all the laws related to child labour.

Half of Yemen's 21 million inhabitants are children, while 43 percent of the population live below the US$2 per day poverty line, according to the UN Development Programme's 2005 Human Development Report.

maj/ar/cb

see also
Street children at increased risk of sexual abuse
Zaid Abdullah, Yemen, “I live from hand to mouth”