Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

No time to be children

Karama Fadel | 11-06-2016

Raouf sells his toys and hair ties while talking to writer Karama Fadel (photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi) 

It’s the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, and in the sultry 80s heat, many Palestinians in Gaza sleep off the hunger until they can eat again, with the late-evening iftar meal.

But 15-year-old Raouf Abdel Hameed is still toiling, selling hair ties and small toys for children on the streets of Gaza City. He’s been doing that since he was 5 years old, earning just 10 shekels (US$2.60) a day. Raouf’s parents are divorced, and without his father, they have no other source of income.

“I wish I could go to a club or something in the summer with my friends, but I have to work. I want to continue my studies and major in accounting in university one day, so I work to buy the supplies we need and to save,” Rafouf says. “I know some people who walk in the streets and ask people for money. Or even steal. But I want to work and make the effort to earn my own money.”

Rafouf is not alone, in Gaza or in many other places. June 12 is World Day Against Child Labor, and the International Labor Organization estimates there are 168 million children in Rafouf’s situation around the globe. In Gaza, the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics says the number of working children between 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the past five years—with 2,900 below the legal employment age of 15. However, economists estimate the actual number of underage workers could be twice as high, just unreported.

The driving factor behind the escalating numbers of children working is the high unemployment rate (44 percent or more)—forcing 80 percent of the population of 1.8 million to be aid dependent to some degree.

"The child labor phenomenon is connected with our bad economic situation. We’ve lived under blockade for more than 10 years,” says Eyad Abu Hjaier, director of the Palestine Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution. “In addition, although Palestine Child Law prohibits labor for more than six hours a day, in dangerous environments for wages commensurate with their age, it is not enforced. There are no inspections.”

The most important action needed, he says, is to prevent children from dropping out of school. “We need employment for the children's parents and support from the ministries of education and social affairs.”

Ayman Nassar is another victim of the crisis of unemployment and poverty in Gaza. Today, he is 17 years old, but he has been selling clothing on the street for the last four years. Sometimes the government doesn’t allow him to put out all of his goods, giving him only a limited space on the sidewalk. He can’t afford a shop.

"I work to support myself,” he says, adding that he earns 20 shekels (US$5) for a 15-hour day, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. “I have to save money for university. I want to get a good job in a company or any place better than selling in the street.”

Mentor: Pam Bailey
Posted June 11, 2016


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