Campaigners Claim Child Labour Ban Ignored

While laws exist to prevent child labour, these are not enforced, say rights groups.

Campaigners Claim Child Labour Ban Ignored

While laws exist to prevent child labour, these are not enforced, say rights groups.

Tuesday, 24 February, 2009
Mohammed, 12, rides his bicycle around the streets of the city of Homs every day. But unlike most children, he doesn’t do so for fun. He is a delivery boy at a fast food restaurant and works until late every night.



“My brothers and I work daily, and so does my father, because we are a poor family and we have rent to pay,” he said.



Increasing numbers of Syrian children are being compelled to turn their backs on education and join the country’s work force, say human rights advocates.



In December, an expert from Syria was elected to join a small international committee responsible for supervising the implementation of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNCRC, which the country ratified in 1991.



However, local observers said that it was ironic to see a Syrian expert help to monitor children’s rights around the world while the conditions for Syrian minors are getting worse.



According to Syrian labour laws, it is prohibited to employ children for any kind of work under the age of 15. In addition, for some physically demanding jobs in the industrial field, the age limit is set at 17.



The law also stipulates that children under 17 cannot be hired to work during the night between 7 pm and 6 am and for more than six hours a day.



But Bassam al-Qadhi, director of the website Women of Syria, which covers women and children’s issues, asserted that in spite of these laws, child labour was becoming increasingly common, especially in rural areas.



He attributed this to the deteriorating economic situation in the country.



“Need drives poor families to seek any means for securing additional income,” said Qadhi.



He argued that the government was not doing enough to monitor and enforce laws against child labour.



The sentence for employers who breach the law is limited to a payment of fines.



“Considering the available resources in Syria, the government’s efforts are slow,” said Qadhi.



In 2007, the authorities made 500 arrests in cases related to child labour, said officials at the ministry of social affairs.



But this is a fraction of the actual figures of children in employment.



There are around 620,000 working children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Syria, according to the latest study carried in 2007 by the official Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the UNICEF. They constitute 18 per cent of the total number of children between these ages.



The study showed that 65 per cent of these children work in the agricultural field, mostly harvesting crops with their families. Others have exhausting jobs in industrial workshops and in construction.



Children are paid much less than adults although they often work as much, said the study. Around half do not get paid at all when they work with their families in the land or in family-owned small businesses, it points out.



Mohammed the delivery boy gets just five US dollars every day, which he said his father takes.



With the living standards of many Syrians becoming worse, most politicians prefer not to tackle the issue of child labour and leave it for parents to decide the fate of their children, said Qadhi.



He said that societies in poor areas considered the decision to put children to work “a family affair”.



Rahada Abdoush, a Damascus-based women and children’s rights advocate, agreed that there was a great discrepancy between the law and social customs in the country.



She said that efforts should be directed towards raising awareness on children’s rights in poor social environments to encourage people to heed existing legislation.



One flagrant result of the growing phenomenon of child labour is the increase in dropout rates from elementary schools, especially in rural areas, said Qadhi.



In Syria, education is free in all public schools and obligatory up to the 9th grade.



Mohammed said that he was not able to work and study.



“I quit school because I stay up late every day at work and I cannot wake up in the morning. Also, school takes time and money,” he said.



Omar, 15, had also to leave school when he started working as an assistant plumber after his father died and his mother became ill.



“I quit school a while ago because studying will not save my family from hunger or feed my sick mother,” he said.
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