Gaza: While the global number of children in the work force (246 million) has fallen dramatically since 2000, child labour in Gaza has risen, reaching 9,700 children, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
With the world’s highest unemployment rate of 43 per cent, and 80 per cent of the population dependent on foreign aid, 2,900 children below the legal employment age of 15 have become their families’ breadwinners.
You can see children roaming the streets of Gaza selling thing — like combs batteries and candies.
At one street corner downtown Deir Al Balah in the middle of the Strip, 12-year-old Mahmoud Abu Amra and his brother Mohammad, 13, work nearly eight hours a day. On a good day they earn 20 Shekels ($6).
“My father doesn’t work all year, but in Ramadan he sends my brother and me to the street to sell radishes and parsley and sometimes coffee and tea,” said the 13-year old street peddler.
It would be very difficult for Mahmoud and his family to survive if the boys didn’t work. He explained that he is willing to do any work to bring home money.
“So far I didn’t leave school. I work during vacations. But sometimes my father sends me to work on school days too,” he told me.
“We are four brothers and three sisters. I am happy to contribute to my family’s income, but I wish I could spend my time playing with the other children,” he said.
Another boy, 14-year old Mohammad, lives in the Al Shujayea neighbourhood, one of the most devastated areas targeted by the Israeli forces in the 2014 summer war.
It’s a family of six, all living in one room, with a small kitchen and bathroom.
“When my father got sick and couldn’t work, my younger brother and I became the only breadwinners in our family,” he told Gulf News. They sell balloons on the street. Sometimes they have to beg people to buy balloons from them.
Being the only breadwinners in his family, Mohammad and his brother had to leave the school to make their livelihood.
The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics reports that 28.5 per cent of the children who don’t attend school are engaged in child labour.
These children are not earning enough to drag their families out of poverty; neither do they have time to invest in their future by going to school.
They will never be able to escape poverty in their entire life.
“I would love to see my sons in school, but if I allow them to go to school we would die of hunger. They are our only source of income,” Mohammad’s mother told Gulf News.
Maha Al Hussaini, the head of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor regional office manager in the Palestinian territories, told Gulf News that prevalence of child labour is the direct product of Israel’s blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007.
“International law guarantees children the right to play, receive education and adequate housing, but unfortunately, these children are deprived of these basic rights,” she said.