The global crisis of child labour

The global crisis of child labour
Almost 170 million youths around the world are trapped in child labour, as World Day Against Child Labour looks into efforts to annihilate the issue.
4 min read
11 June, 2015
File Photo: A Syrian boy waits for customers in a wealthy district of Beirut [AFP]
Children make up to a quarter of the world's modern-day slaves, with almost 170 million trapped, deprived of an education and facing a life without a decent job.

From slavery and working in hazardous environments to drug trafficking and prostitution, many children around the world are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, which has become a growing phenomena in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Armed conflicts, political turmoil and poverty in several countries including Syria and Yemen have left children with no other alternative but work.

The latest figures published by the United Nations's International Labour Organisation, comes ahead of World Day Against Child Labour, which, marked on June 12, attempts to bring attention to this global issue as well as looking at efforts to end it.

A study earlier this year found that a total of 1,510 children were living or working on the streets of Lebanon. More than 70 percent were Syrian refugees.

Although Lebanon adopted a national action plan in 2010 to end child labour by 2016, it has struggled to deal with the problem, which has been exacerbated by war in neighbouring countries.

In Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, more than 3,000 Syrian children between seven and 17 are found to be working, according to a joint study by UNICEF and Save the Children. They add that one in five had reported physical abuse while working.

In Turkey, many experts have stated that the influx of Syrian refugees with poor economic conditions had led to a dramatic increase in child labour in the country in the past two years.

"But child labour rates are much higher than the official numbers, as they do not include children working in the streets, such as street vendors or beggars", Hakan Acar, a professor at Turkey's Kocaeli university said.
After our father was killed in Aleppo, me and my brother had to work to help our mother and siblings
- Ahmed, 12

Ahmed, 12, who works at a clothes factory in Istanbul with his brother, said "After our father was killed in Aleppo, me and my brother had to work to help our mother and siblings."

"I loved going to school, and maths was my favourite subject. I've always wanted to become an engineer."

Children working on the streets of Yemen due to poverty [Anadolu]

More than 21 million children in the region are either not at school or at risk of dropping out and therefore working seems to be their only option.

"Children who drop out of school and join the labour force early are more disadvantaged later in life because of a lack of education and basic skills," said Patrick Quinn, a senior ILO adviser.

About 20 to 30 percent of children in low income countries complete their schooling and enter the labour market by the age of 15, with many of them already involved in some kind of work before. 

"So what if you get an education, you will wind up working for the settlements," a Palestinian child working on a settlement farm in the Jordan Valley area said.  

Palestinian poverty rates in the Jordan Valley have increased dramatically and are the highest anywhere in the occupied West Bank.

Labour rights groups estimate that hundreds of children work in Israeli agricultural settlements year-round, with numbers potentially increasing during peak harvesting times.

"Children from communities impoverished by Israel's discrimination and settlement policies are dropping out of school and taking on dangerous work because they feel they have no alternatives," said Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch, adding that Israel had turned a blind eye to the problem.

The report also found that a high proportion of children aged 15 to 17 in countries such as Yemen, Jordan and Egypt, were in jobs that have been classified as hazardous or the worst forms of child labour.

"National policies should be directed towards removing children and young people from hazardous jobs and, of course, towards removing the hazards in the workplace,”  said Guy Ryder, the director-general of ILO.

Ryder pushed for a coherent policy approach to tackle child labour and the lack of decent jobs for youth together.

"Keeping children in school and receiving a good education until at least the minimum age of employment will determine the whole life of a child" he said.

In March, the Egyptian ministry of social solidarity signed a memorandum with the UN World Food Programme for a project to combat child labour through education.

The project, funded with $67 million from the EU, aims to provide school meals and monthly food rations for more than 100,000 children to encourage their parents to enrol them in schools and not send them to the labour market.

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