21 February 2014, from Gulf News
New law that indicts employers of children will be imposed shortly in Palestine
Ramallah: When children of his age go to school, thirteen-year-old Karim wakes up every morning and gets ready to go to work.
He goes to market place daily and brings a trolley to help shoppers load their purchases and move around with them.
“I was asked by my family to quit school and find a job to help my father support my other brothers and sisters,” he says.
“My mother told me I am big enough to share the family responsibility and I was happy to quit school and earn money,” he told Gulf News.
“My family has many problems and when I think about them I come to the conclusion that money is the root cause for all issues,” he said.
15 year old Ahmad said he volunteered to work and help his family after he successfully finished his primary education at an UNRWA school.
“When I finished my ninth year in school, I was supposed to go to secondary education but I offered to my family that I would quit school and work to improve our financial condition. My parents said it was my choice,” he said.
Ahmad said he was good in his studies but was aware that his family was in debt and he felt it was his responsibility to give a helping hand.
There are several of such cases in Palestine where children as young as 10 year old extend a helping hand to their families out of compulsion.
A total of 102,000 children (defined as individuals below the age of 18) have become laborers because they have to support their families, according to the Palestinian Labour Ministry, terming child labor as one of the most dangerous phenomena in Palestine.
A large percentage of Palestinian working children are employed in West Bank based Israeli colonies despite laws which essentially ban the employment of children.
Officials from the Labor Ministry have arrested 63 Palestinian children who secretly work in Israeli colonies and the ministry is seeking to reduce the total number of working children to 80,000 by 2014.
Ahmad Majdalani, the Palestinian Labour Minister, said that during 2012, six per cent of the total population of Palestinian children joined the workforce and therefore quit school.
In 2013, the percentage of employed children dropped to 4.6 per cent following massive government and non government efforts to address the phenomenon.
Majdalani said that children comprise almost half of the Palestinian population and that the total number of Palestinian children exceeds two million.
The Labour Minister stressed that the employment of children remains a nightmare for Palestinian society and labelled the employment of children in colonies as similar to slavery.
Majdalani said that his ministry has joined forces with various Palestinian syndicates, unions and non government organizations to establish a national anti-child work committee which has sought to ensure that Palestinian children do not do dangerous work which could cause them damage and affect their future prospects.
“The ministry and concerned authorities have drawn real and practical plans to fight against the employment of children,” he said, adding that Palestinian labor law has been amended to ensure children do not join labor forces.
“A new law that bans the work of children and makes their employment a crime will be imposed shortly. After this, employers will be indicted if they recruit children,” he stressed.
“Vocational education is the right choice for the teenage children targeted by employers and promoting this kind of education offers those young people a way out,” he said.
Majdalani added that chances for careers have been given to many former working children who have joined vocational education schools.
The minister stated that until 2000, it was unusual to find cases of children in employment. He said that since then, the numbers of Palestinian working children have grown significantly with the result that now in excess of 100,000 are employed.
This issue is also critical because of the projected growth in the numbers of Palestinians under the age of 18.
Shaher Sa’ad, the Secretary General of the Palestine General Federation of Trade and Labor Unions, has urged international labor organizations to intervene immediately to ensure an end to the employment of Palestinian children in West Bank based Israel colonies.
“We have not been able even to evaluate the size of the problem of working children inside Israeli colonies, as we are not allowed to enter those colonies,” he told Gulf News. “Recruitment of Palestinian children in the agricultural sector inside Israeli colonies should be disclosed, and we call on international organizations to do this,” he said.
He stressed that the work of Palestinian children in colonies badly harms the entire Palestinian society and costs Palestinian families dearly in the risks their children are exposed to in workplaces.
Sa’ad said that social guarantees to families within the Palestinian society can ensure an end to the work of Palestinian children.
He stressed that child labor has produced an illiterate generation because children have quit school to join the workforce.
Children make up 48.5 per cent of the Palestinian population and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics population projections at the end of 2013 estimated that 315,329 children were aged 15 to 19.
In the younger age groups, those projections increased to 323,225 for children in the age group 10-14, 339,596 aged 5 to 9 and 377,128 children in the age group 0 to 4. The latter numbers represent significant growth in the numbers of children who will need to be protected from work related exploitation in future.
The Ministry said that 71 per cent of working children did not have the chance to attend secondary education, while about five per cent of the child workers had never attended school.
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics figures list 27.3 per cent unemployment within Palestinian society across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the occupied East Jerusalem.
Unemployment within Palestinian families has been termed a trigger factor for the increasing numbers of children joining the workforce to help their families.