Children of a shekel

Yusef and Mohammed are 15 years old and they are from Qalandiya Refugee Camp. Palestine Monitor met them during their working hours, in which a day of work that lasts until 6 pm, including “half an hour break at 10:30 to eat and rest,” as they described.

Ali, another child worker at just 14, said he left school last year and works mainly in vineyards in Bethlehem.

“We transport the crates and thin the vines so that the bunches of grapes become more beautiful,” Ali explained.

“The work is done one row at a time and you have to finish it. Sometimes it’s hard to stay that long. I’m doing this for my family. I have 2 little sisters I want them to have a great job when they grow up. I have to help my parents financially.

The population density in the Palestinian territories is very high. In fact, the Gaza Strip has the highest population density in the world with 3, 278 inhabitants per square kilometer. The population is divided into three different environments: The urban environment of cities (53%); villages (31%) and refugee camps (16%), which in each case have distinct demographic characteristics. Young people aged 18 or under represent 53% of the population.

There is no precise definition of street children in the Palestinian territories. Street children, sometimes called “Shekel” children, are mostly talked about because of their association with child labor.

According to Zohar M. – name changed for privacy reasons – a teacher from Montessori school in Ramallah, the most appropriate way of describing street children in the Palestinian context might be to define them as “children who spend the whole day until sundown, and sometimes beyond, to beg, to work or peddle in the streets, in markets, at crossroads and around Israeli checkpoints.

The economic contribution of children to family income is generally not classified as “child labor.”

“In the contrary, it is often considered beneficial for a child to acquire skills that will ensure a future income for the child and family, especially in cities and refugee camps,” Fayez Ahmad Hassan al-Fasfous said, the Hebron and Bethlehem area coordinator at the Early Childhood Resource Center, where he has worked for the past 33 years.

The fact remains that the last two decades have seen a noticeable increase in the incidence of child labor in Palestine and, in particular, more precarious forms of work such as hawking and hazardous work according to International Labor Organization(ILO).

Randa George Yacoub Siniora, a human and women’s rights defender believes this situation is to a large extent attributed to the deterioration of the socio-economic fabric of Palestinian society.

Israeli checkpoints have become a gathering place for working children because of the long queues that are forming in front of the gates.

Feras Montsar, a Palestinian man who goes through Qalandiya checkpoint every morning to work, spoke to Palestine Monitor regarding Shekel children.

“Most of the children we see in these places work to support their families, to pay school fees or to cover their personal needs, Montsar said.

They work, on average, 9.45 hours a day, every day, and they often have to work up to 12 hours in a row. Their average daily income is 20-30 shekels, according to ILO.

For children working in areas such as Hebron, in the south of the West Bank, working in hostile environments like this, where tensions are at its peak, exposes these children to the risk of being caught in crossfire or experiencing abuse by other children, the Israeli army or the Palestinian police.

Factors that push children to the streets

Unable to pay for school fees, many families are forced to send their children to work. In addition, there is a general tendency to depreciate education, which is related to the fact that it does not necessarily guarantee access to a job in the short term.

The lack of supervision and the inability of children to adapt to the formal school system are also the cause of many dropouts.

The rate, as well as the extent of poverty in the West Bank and Gaza have reached unprecedented levels. According to statisticspublished in 2012, more than two-thirds of the Palestinian population lives on less than $ 1.90 a day.

Children suffer disproportionately from the consequences of this poverty, since they represent more than half of the population in the Palestinian territories, where each household is made up of seven people, on average. The size of families and their inversely proportional incomes forced many children to try their luck in the street.

The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) is actively engaged in child labor in Gaza and the West Bank. The PGFTU works in close collaboration with the ILO to include the above-mentioned articles in the labor legislation of Palestine. Several workshops were also organized on topics related to child labor.

These activities were aimed specifically at parents and aimed at raising their awareness of the negative aspects of child labor.

According to a source from one of the Palestinian schools in Bethlehem, who spoke to Palestine Monitor, children often leave school by the age of 14. Departures are around 50 percent among boys.

“These kids have little choice. The economic situation is very hard and we are counting on them to help their families, they explained.

Source: Palestine Monitor