Unicef: The children trading homework for hard labour

Sixteen-year-old Mohammad, who does not attend school, looks at car components at the garage where he works repairing cars.
Eyad El Baba

Sixteen-year-old Mohammad, who does not attend school, looks at car components at the garage where he works repairing cars.

Thirteen-year-old Ahmad doesn't attend school. Instead, he works. Hard, back-breaking work.

"Every day I go and look for scrap metal and gravel in the rubble of the houses which were destroyed in past wars," he says.

"I carry steel and stones, put them on the donkey and go to the market to sell them to firms which will use them to make gravel and construction materials. It is very hard work."

"Every day I go and look for scrap metal and gravel in the rubble of the houses which were destroyed in past wars," says ...
Eyad El Baba

"Every day I go and look for scrap metal and gravel in the rubble of the houses which were destroyed in past wars," says thirteen-year-old Ahmad.

It is extremely tough on both Ahmed and his donkey. But every day he returns to his job, in an effort to make life ever-so-slightly easier for his family.

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Thirteen-year-old Yunis holds a tray with a cup of coffee in Gaza City. Two years ago Yunis left school to work.
Eyad El Baba

Thirteen-year-old Yunis holds a tray with a cup of coffee in Gaza City. Two years ago Yunis left school to work.


Ahmad's father is ill and unable to work, and while the family receives assistance from charitable organisations, it is still not enough to make ends meet. 

"My brothers and I work so we can earn a few shekels" says Ahmad, "I never know how much money I will make, it depends on how much steel and gravel I can find and how many hours I can work before the donkey and I become tired. I always return home exhausted."

Like many families living in Gaza, there is little that is easy in their daily routine.

Ten-year-old Hassan quit school in order to earn money to support his unemployed father. He sells snacks and biscuits on ...
Eyad El Baba

Ten-year-old Hassan quit school in order to earn money to support his unemployed father. He sells snacks and biscuits on the street.

The family's tin-roofed shelter isn't connected to the water network, so every drop must be lugged from the nearest water source in heavy jerry cans. That task again falls on Ahmad and his brothers, in addition to their work.

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Ahmad is one of the many thousands of children who have given up on education in order to earn some small additional income for their families.

Nearly 40 percent of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip live under the poverty line, and almost three-quarters of families rely on some form of external aid. 

Fourteen-year-old Saber holds up parsley which he sells at the local market in Rafah.
Eyad El Baba

Fourteen-year-old Saber holds up parsley which he sells at the local market in Rafah.

In the very poor area of Gaza City in which they live, Ahmad's ten-year-old Ibrahim strokes his cat. The family is too poor to buy him toys, but they have a number of pets he can play with.

Ibrahim often joins Ahmad at work after finishing his day at school. "My dream is that my family and I will move to a clean, big house, and that I will have nice clothes," he says.

Child labour rates have doubled over the last five years as economic conditions in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated. It's an increase that goes against international trends: in 2013, the International Labour Organization said that the number of child labourers worldwide had fallen by a third since 2000. 

In an effort to address these rates, child rights organisation UNICEF is working with vulnerable children in Gaza, including those involved in child labour. It supports 20 family centres throughout the Gaza Strip where child protection counsellors and case managers are present. 

Once a child has been identified, they are assisted back into the education system, and sometimes offering vocational training. Services are even extended to families - showing them how to access short-term job opportunities or small businesses schemes.

But even so, after years of displacement and disruption, Gaza's problems will take time to fix. For many of these children, it is unlikely they will return to school.

Yunis is just thirteen, but has already been working for two years. 

"I have 12 brothers," says Yunis, "we all live in a very simple house. My dad is unemployed so two years ago, I left school to work. I am the oldest, and the only breadwinner in the family," he says.

The key to ensuring a brighter future for these children is by providing them with an education. But without that support, children like Yunis will face a lifetime of eking out whatever meagre income they can.

"Every day I sell coffee to people on the beach, and earn 20 shekels (NZ$8). I give the money to my dad to buy food and water. I dream of going back to school. I dream that my dad will find a job so I can lead a normal life."

UNICEF stands for every child, so that every child can have an education. To support UNICEF's work with children like Ahmad and Yunis, you can visit unicef.org.nz

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