By Rob Sixsmith
ALEPPO, Syrian Arab Republic, 15 October 2010 – As the latest link in an unbreakable cigarette chain burns along his oil-yellowed fingers, Syrian mechanic Abu Hamid explains his predicament.
|VIDEO: 5 August 2010: UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports from the Syrian Arab Republic on child labour. Watch in RealPlayer|
The two sodas he has just offered as hospitality comprise roughly half of his daily earnings – so what can he do, he asks, but send his sons out to work.
“If my parents had offered me an education my situation would have been much better,” said Mr. Hamid. “I’ve tried to educate my own children. But without the money they earn, we cannot survive.”
Breaking the cycle of poverty
"Child labour is slowly climbing the list of priorities in Syria, a country where, at first glance, the problem would seem serious. There are few official statistics, but many of the country’s poorest families rely on the income of their children – perpetuating a cycle of poverty that means poor adults beget poor child.
|© UNICEF video|
|Ahmad, 9, works at a clothing factory in Aleppo, Syria.|
Aiming to head off the serious implications that Syria’s child labour problem has for the future are a number of UNICEF and government initiatives such as a recent child labour workshop in Aleppo, a city in the north of the country. Designed to raise awareness of the child labour situation, the workshop had wide-reaching implications for the country as a whole.
“First of all, this is a great initiative because it serves humanity, and this is what all religions are about,” noted Muhammad Nour Ghazal, a leading Islamic figure in Aleppo.
As Mr. Ghazal’s attendance at the workshop suggests, child labour is a problem that can only be tackled by a broad coalition including local political and religious leaders. Their attendance at the UNICEF and Ministry of Social Affairs workshop is a positive development.
While many families rely on income from child labour, the practice frequently further impoverishes the very poor. And when child labour threatens child health and safety, it becomes a life critical issue.
|© UNICEF video|
|Children in Aleppo, a city in northern Syria, where a large percentage of young people work for a living.|
One of the primary sources of child labour in the historical city of Aleppo is the numerous small clothing factories that swarm around the dusty outlying areas. Besides keeping children out of school, the very atmosphere of the factories pose a threat for the young labourers.
“The prevalent craft around here is shoemaking and clothing, where the working atmosphere is extremely unhealthy,” said Ghada Al Rifaee, who works with a non-governmental project in Aleppo called ‘Our City.’ “Some of the children have become addicted to the glue that they use all day long. Add to that the hand allergies and inflammations. We also need someone to investigate the likelihood of cancer.”
One such child is young Ahmad, who, at nine years old, is likely beginning a long career in Aleppo’s clothing factories. His older brother, who works at a sewing machine on the opposite bench, has done so himself since the age of six. Despite power cuts, cramped conditions and intense heat Ahmad seems skilled at his job. He clearly learns fast.
Confronting the problem
“There are young kids here because it’s summer,” said The factory’s owner, Abu Ahmad. “Normally we employ kids after the age of 16 and 17. They deserve to learn before that age ... All of our workers are educated. In general we have no illiteracy or ignorance.”
Like Abu Ahmad, many of the owners of Aleppo’s small textiles factories vigorously deny that they employ uneducated young children.
“This issue of child labour is very serious,” said Ahd Breddy, from Aleppo’s non-governmental Orphan Girl organization. “Because of it our children are dropping out of school and this helps ruin communities.”
Child labour debilitates Syria’s development, leaving the poorest tangled in a dangerous web of poverty. Above all else, the recent UNICEF and Ministry of Social Affairs workshop marks a departure point – the creation of partnership determined to tackle the problem of child labour in Syria.