Child labour rises sharply in Gaza

Child workforce in Gaza doubles in past five years, as almost 3,000 children work under legal age, official figures show

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Palestinian boy Mohammad al-Asi, 16, repairs a fishing net at the Seaport of Gaza City, March 29, 2016.

Child labour has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters have become breadwinners for families feeling the burden of the Palestinian enclave's 43 percent unemployment rate.

According to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the number of working children between the ages of 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the territory in the past five years.

The bureau said 2,900 of those children are below the legal employment age of 15. Economists in the narrow coastal strip, home to 1.9 million Palestinians, estimate the real number of underage workers could be twice as high.

"Some people are living like kings and many others like us are hardly finding anything to eat," said 10-year-old Mohammed, who sells potato chips on the street and began working after his father, a construction labourer, lost his job.

The increase in Gaza goes against trends. The International Labour Organization says the worldwide number of children in labour has fallen by a third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million, with more than a fifth in sub-Saharan Africa.

At one garage in downtown Gaza, 16-year-old Mahmoud Yazji and another boy, aged 12, work nine hours a day. Mahmoud said he earns the equivalent of $13 a week; the younger boy takes home half of that.

"My father makes 1,000 shekels [$258] a month. It disappears in a few days and we struggle for the rest of the month," Mahmoud said.

Palestinian boy Mohamoud Yazji, 16, who works as apprentice mechanic, repairs a car at a garage in Gaza City March 17, 2016.

Haitham Khzaiq, 16, quit school six months ago to sell candy apples. He works a half-day, seven days a week, and said he earns a total of 20 shekels ($5).

"We are five brothers and eight sisters. I am the oldest son and I had to work because my father is unemployed," he said. "I don't earn enough but it is better than nothing and it is better than begging people for money."

A Dutch-funded organisation, El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation, has been running a project for three years aimed at convincing families in Gaza of the importance of returning working children to the classroom.

"We are very worried. We feel children's rights are being trampled on," said Naeem al-Ghalban, who heads the society.

Last year the World Bank said in a report that Gaza's GDP would have been four times higher if not for conflicts and restrictions.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized the territory from forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, critics argue the blockade amounts to collective punishment.

Gaza's economy was badly hurt as a result of the fighting with Israel, especially the agriculture, construction, manufacturing and electricity sectors.

In July and August 2014, Israel launched the 51-day "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza Strip and killed more than 2,100 people - mostly women and children - and injured another 11,000.

TRTWorld, Reuters