12 hour work days at 13: How child labor persists

child labor
An undated photo of a child-worker as he carries a cart across a street in Amman. (File photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Ahmad, 13, works 12 hours a day, six days a week for a flat rate of JD4. He has no breaks and stands on his feet all day under a scorching summer sun, waving to cars in an Amman street in the northern district of Hashemi Shamali for the coffee joint he works for.اضافة اعلان

Ahmad is the eldest in his family of five and must work to help his family put food on the table.

“My shift starts at 5:30am on weekdays and 7am on weekends,” he told Jordan News.

“I must keep two things in mind everyday: Not to get hit by any cars, and not to let anyone flee without paying because it’s going to be cut from my paycheck,” he added.

Ahmad, who was supposed to be in eighth grade, said his dream was to become a teacher.

Asked why not to be a doctor, or engineer, like many other Jordanian school children, he said: “I get to shush the other kids all day, and that’s very cool.”

His favorite subject in school was geography because he said it made him think “how huge the world is”.

Jordanian legislation prohibits the work of children under 16 years, according to Article 73 of the Jordanian Labor Law.

Article 74, however, allows children between 16 and 18 years to work within specific controls, the most important of which is not to work in dangerous, exhausting, or harmful environments.

It also stipulates that working hours should not exceed 36 per week, or six hours a day for six days a week. It designates a break after working four hours continuously. A written consent from the child’s guardian to work is required. The monthly wage must not be less than the minimum wage.

Haitham Al-Najdawi, head of Inspection in the Ministry of Labor, pointed out to Jordan News that employing children under 16 years is subject to the provisions of the Labor Law, with a violation ranging between JD300 to JD500.

He asserted that the ministry carries out daily inspections to target the facilities which employ children, such as specific professions like vehicle maintenance and mechanic shops.

Najdawi said that the ministry carried out 6,658 inspection visits in the first half of the year. The visits showed 236 violations involving child labor. “Legal measures were taken against the employers,” he said, noting that 133 warnings and 45 violations were issued.

As for Ahmad, he remembers the “best day ever” in his life, as he called it.

“It was last July. I stood for almost two hours waving for cars and only one customer parked near me asking for water. The weather was extremely hot. I was wearing a hat and beneath it a wet towel wrapped around my head,” he recalled.

Suddenly, he added, his boss came, he gave me my JD4 for the day, and “told me I could go home. At that point I thought I was fired.”

But then the boss shouted to me “come early tomorrow.”

“I wanted to laugh so hard thinking what’s earlier than 5:30? But I didn’t give it much thought and just went home,” he said.

Ahmad said he found out the next day that there was an inspection visit that day, which prompted his boss to send him home early.

Tamkeen for legal aid and human rights said child labor has increased in almost every sector in Jordan. It said the highest percentage was in cargo loading, which is physically harmful to children.

Tamkeen CEO Linda Kalash told Jordan News that the economic conditions following the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the increase, which is estimated at 100,000 last year.

Kalash said that the labor ministry inspection is “insufficient” since there are only 200 inspectors responsible for all the sectors.

She stressed that fines should be hiked to discourage violators from employing children.

“Children who didn’t have the needed equipment for online schooling failed to attend school for almost two years,” she said. “This led to an increasing number of school dropouts.”

The National Child Labor survey, issued by national institutions and supported by the International Labor Organization, said in it last published study in 2016 that the percentage of child labor in the category from 5–17 years reached 75,982 children.

The figure included 8,868 girls working at a rate of 11.6 percent, which represented a 130 percent increase over 2007 and 2008, when the number of working children at that time was 33,000.

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