Child labour on the rise in Jordan
At the end of a ten-hour shift, 14-year-old school dropout Sami approaches his employer’s desk to receive his daily $2.
Sami started working at a car repair shop two years ago after the sudden death of his father. He scrubbed oil and grease off the floor and helped the more experienced workers. Currently, Sami works as a car mechanic, having learnt the “secrets of the profession”.
“Alone, I can figure out what is wrong with any car and fix it,” he proudly said.
When asked if he plans to return to school to pursue education, he replied: “Academic certificates are worthless. I have to support my family and I have a very promising profession here.”
Across the street, Ahmed, 10, wipes the sweat off his forehead as he whizzed from an Amman coffee parlour to deliver spiced Arabic coffee to cars on the road.
“It is not much but it helps my family,” the shy boy said, referring to his daily wage of $1.50.
“All I have to do is stand near the pavement and wave at cars to stop for a cup of Arabic coffee,” Ahmed said.
“It’s an easy job.”
While Jordan prepares to mark the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12th, this year’s theme is “‘No to Child Labour — YES to Quality Education!”, Sami and Ahmed remain certain they have made the right decision by leaving school and finding jobs.
The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates their right to live a decent life with all basic needs provided to them. It also calls for other rights, which include the right to education, play, leisure, cultural activities, access to information and freedom of thought as well as protection rights to ensure that children are safeguarded against abuse, neglect and exploitation, with special care for refugee children.
Jordanian law forbids children under the age of 16 from working, said Amman lawyer Saed Hiasat.
“Article 73 of the Labour Law No. 08 is clear regarding the employment of children under 16 years of age but still people do that in certain areas and certain fields,” Hiasat said in an interview with The Arab Weekly.
Jordan’s policy regarding child labour is called the National Framework to Combat Child Labour (NFCL), he said.
“Statistics show that child labourers make up 48.8% of the total workforce in the services sector, 40.5% in the agricultural sector and 8% in the manufacturing field,” he added.
The Jordanian Ministry of Labour attributes child labour to the desire of business owners to pay low wages in inappropriate conditions with no social benefits or health insurance.
Social worker Muna Batarseh, from Madaba in central Jordan, said the problem of child labour exists in many parts of the world.
“It is not only Jordan,” Batarseh said. “There are many children in various countries worldwide who are forced to go to work every day to help shore up family finances or to satisfy family greed.”
In Jordan, she added, “I tried to help many children by putting them back to school and giving them state allowances but later I discovered that they returned to work.”
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said more than 150 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour. In sub-Saharan Africa 25% of children aged 5 to 14 years are working. In South Asia the figure is 12% and it’s 5% in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In the Middle East and North Africa, 9% of children work, with 11% males and 7% females. In Jordan it is at 2%, Egypt 9%, Bahrain 5% while Jordan and Lebanon are at 2%, according to UNICEF statistics for 2014.
Batarseh said the bulk of the child labourers come from families “without a father and this puts a lot of pressure on mothers. The last resort is to let their children find a job or sell hand-made products.”
She said there was an increase in child labour in Jordan, although she did not have numbers, and blamed that on the presence of the cheaper labour of Syrian refugees.
“This really contributed much to the number of children working in various jobs as they have no other alternative, except to work to feed their families,” she said.
Amman housewife Lina Mousa said: “We see many kids selling gum, begging or trying to clean the car at traffic lights and we always wonder why things end up like that for them.”
“I have children and it only breaks my heart to see little kids working to support their families. So we try to help as much as we can as our government cannot help everyone,” she added.
Yousef Qandah, a researcher and economist, described child labour as a plague.
“The children think that by working in any profession at an early age, they can build a career to open their own shop in the future. That is why they stick to working more than thinking of going to school,” he said.
But the danger is higher in certain professions, according to Qandah.
“We remember well 14-year-old Khaled who was killed while working in a blacksmith shop in the eastern desert city of Russeifa last year… when his scarf was caught in one of the machines and was strangled to death,” he said.
About 39% of children labourers in Jordan work in auto workshops followed by 25% in trade and 13.5% in waste recycling, said Qandah, referring to local research.
“It is really alarming that we’re that much depending on child labourers,” he added.