Child labor grows amid timid gov’t efforts to tackle problem

child labor
(Photo: Shutterstock)
AMMAN — According to the 2016 National Child Labor Survey, some 70,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 work, 80 percent Jordanian and 15 percent Syrian; of the number, more than 30,000 are aged 5–14.اضافة اعلان

There is no up-to-date data about “the reality of child labor today, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closures, the rising unemployment rates, raging inflation, and sky rocketing living costs”, Linda Kalash, human rights activist and president of Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights, told Jordan News.

“Based on observation alone, there is no question that child labor has increased in Jordan in recent months, given the deteriorating economic conditions of many Jordanian households,” Kalash said, adding that many of them work in agriculture and retail.

Besides the economic hardships, the worsening school environment school contributes to child labor in Jordan, she believes.

“Schools are overcrowded and underserved, and some children are dropping out,” she said.

“The government needs to invest in developmental and employment projects at national level, and improve the school environment across the country,” she underlined.

At the same time, “many employers prefer to hire children, as they pay them less than adults and can avoid mandatory employment liabilities such as social security”, Kalash said.

Another reason child labor is increasing in Jordan are the low wages, she said.

“Higher household incomes surely help prevent child labor; the minimum wage in Jordan is not enough to help people cope with the rising inflation rates and living costs,” she stressed.

Another encouraging factor is what human rights activist Emad Sharqawi called “the normalization of child labor culture”.

“The social culture in Jordan normalizes child labor. Many families send their children out to get a job at very early ages, to learn a trade or partake in the family business,” Sharqawi told Jordan News.

Not criminalizing child employment, and the absence of monitoring and reinforcement, only helps the phenomenon grow in Jordan, he said.

“This is a dangerous issue that needs to be addressed expressly, as children face exploitation out in the streets every day, with seldom anyone to protect them,” Sharqawi said.

Children are exploited physically, financially, and in some cases sexually, due to their exposure to unjust, unsafe and unmonitored conditions at work, he added.

According to Sharqawi, several cases have been filed with courts in Amman and elsewhere, with the plaintiffs being underage laborers who were exploited one way or another at the workplace.

One way to address the issue is to form inspection teams to monitor employers who hire children, to enable a reporting mechanism, and to criminalize the act, “instead of simply just fining employers”, which “should face jail time” he argued.

Ministry of Social Development spokesperson Ashraf Khreis told Jordan News over the phone that an interministerial endeavor is under way to combat child employment.

A statement she made available to Jordan News said that the National Framework to Combat Child Labor was launched to address the issue, in coordination with the various government bodies, to provide various social services to help eradicate the problem.

This framework clearly identifies the Ministry of Labor as the party responsible for inspection efforts to monitor and resolve cases of child labor, and refer any such case to the Ministry of Social Development.

Child rights activist Kathem Al-Kufairi told Jordan News that these efforts are mainly led by the  Labor Ministry, along with the Minisries of Social Development, and Education, and other government and civil society bodies in Jordan, to provide solutions to the problem.

“Efforts to address the issue right now are humble. Nevertheless, organizations were established in different parts of Jordan to help monitor child labor in the main cities, such as Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid, where the phenomenon is more widespread than in other parts of the country,” Kufairi said.

Among the measures taken is cash subsidies given by the of Social Development Ministry to families whose children work, “to incentivize them to pull their children from the labor market and send them back to school”, he added.

In order for the government to tackle the issue, funding from international donors is needed, he said, adding that “there are other more pressing priorities at the moment weighing on the state’s shoulders”.

“According to the International Labor Organization, there are more than 100,000 child laborers in Jordan, many of whom quit school due to the unfavorable conditions they face in the classroom, such as bullying or discouragement due to low grades,” Kufairi stated.

Many of the children who face such conditions look to the streets for respect and income, he added.

Still, the greater role falls upon the family itself, as the basic social unit in Jordan, Kufairi said, adding that it is the family’s responsibility to prevent children from quitting schools and working at young ages.

Various government and social actors need to work together to combat this phenomenon, he stressed.

The Ministry of Education should focus on rehabilitating classrooms across the country and addressing negative behaviors, such as bullying, in schools, not to mention lowering the teacher-to-student ratio, which is very high due to overpopulated classrooms, he pointed out.

“A good place to start is to focus on places where children face the most dangerous and unsafe working conditions, and these places are known to officials as well as activists,” Kufairi said.

Read more Features
Jordan News