‘We are losing a whole generation:’ World Day Against Child Labor

Child labor mechanic
(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — In Jordan and around the world, the pandemic has been linked to an increase in child labor. Experts speaking to Jordan News on Saturday, World Day Against Child Labor, said that the problem is widespread.اضافة اعلان

Razan Hadidi, the national coordinator of the child labor project at the International Labor Organization (ILO), explained in an interview with Jordan News that the ILO is currently working on a project targeting children in the agricultural sector, which she described as one of “the worst forms of child labor in Jordan.”

According to her, child labor, especially in the agricultural sector, is a vicious cycle. “In the agricultural sector, the age of workers is between 12 years old and 30,” she said, adding that working from a young age exposes workers to health problems early on.

“This is the only sector they (the parents) know,” she said. So when they themselves are unable to work in their sector, they encourage their children to work instead.

The ILO’s solution is to provide more vocational training and education for those parents who are shut out of the agricultural sector. “What we are trying to do is give them another skill to enable them to work in another sector, so their kids can go to school or stay home,” she said.

Hadidi also explained that especially for children whose parents both work, the switch to online education has taken away an important safe space. The children “cannot stay at home, so the father thinks, if they engage him with any work, he’ll be occupied for the whole day,” she said.

Even when the work is not physically challenging, Hadidi pointed out, children are “mentally not mature” enough to work. “You are isolating them from their natural environment where they should be,” she said.

“I think we are losing a whole generation” due to COVID-19 and the subsequent increase in school drop-outs and increases in child labor, she said. “They don’t have the soft skills” they would normally obtain in school.

Several sources speaking to Jordan News, including UNICEF in a previous interview, highlighted the absence of comprehensive, up-to-date data about child labor in Jordan, while indicating that they had observed increases in their daily work.

The most recent survey on child labor was conducted in 2016 by the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, the ILO, the Ministry of Labor, and the Department of Statistics — and found that child labor had doubled since 2007. Outside of Jordan, a new report from the ILO and UNICEF found that child labor has risen to 160 million cases in 2021, with an additional 9 million children at risk of being pushed into labor due to the pandemic.

“There is not evidence that there is an increase or decrease in the number of child labor” since the pandemic, Ministry of Labor spokesman Mohammad Al-Zyoud said in an interview with Jordan News. “This requires a national survey in which all government agencies concerned with reducing child labor participate.”

But such a national survey has yet to be implemented.

Haifa Darwish, head of the Child Labor Department at the Ministry of Labor, told Jordan News that a study of that scale is one of the ministry’s “priorities”, “but we are waiting for students to return to schools so that the survey reflects the correct reality of child labor.”

She added that the ministry is working on identifying appropriate partners to carry out the study, which requires the “cooperation and participation of all parties.”

According to Darwish, although there is no quantitative data yet to confirm a rise in child labor, there are other “indicators and reasons that indicate an increase.”

She highlighted the importance of “Societal awareness and the awareness of employers about the dangers of child labor.” She also mentioned some of the ministry’s future plans to address the problem, including constructing a national database with the data of all children working in Jordan and the provision of integrated services to these children.

Zyoud said that the ministry’s inspection teams have carried out many inspections since the beginning of the pandemic and halted cases of child labor.

According to Zyoud, in 2020 the ministry carried out 11,952 inspections, of which 503 cases of child labor were discovered and 265 warnings and 79 violations against employers issued.  From the start of 2021 until May, the ministry executed 6,658 inspections, which identified 236 cases of child labor. They issued 133 warnings and 45 violations against employers.

“No one has data,” said Ahmad Awad, director of the Phenix Center for Economics and Informatics Studies and Jordan Labor Watch, which published a report about child labor on Saturday, in an interview with Jordan News.

Child labor is “a global dilemma, but I think in Jordan, it has increased significantly because the schools closed for three semesters,” he said, noting that Jordan Labor Watch has encouraged the government to start the scholastic year early to bring children back from work.

Awad referenced statistics from the Ministry of Education which found that 10 to 20 percent of families did not engage in the Darsak platform, a platform dedicated to online learning during COVID-19, at all. Separated from their usual support systems, it’s easier for students to disappear from online school into informal work on farms, in car repair shops, and other labor places.

Awad pointed out that child labor tends to occur among low-income families in Jordan, a category that has only increased during the pandemic. “Their families allow them to get to the labor market to cover their fundamental expenses,” he said.

According to Awad, his organization has been publishing position papers about child labor for the past 10 years — but the government has not implemented any of its recommendations, like establishing a database for child labor and changing the fiscal policies in Jordan “in order to enhance the economic growth.”

He emphasized the importance of increasing wages so that heads of families can actually cover all of their expenses — and not “encourage their kids to engage in the labor market.”

The government is taking its own steps to combat child labor. To mark World Day Against Child Labor, the minister of labor, Yousef Al-Shamali, launched a new campaign called “I Do Not Want to Work, I Want to Learn.”

Shamali stated that the prime minister recently approved the formation of a national working group, led by the ministry, to “update the national strategy to combat child labor and develop a national action plan for its implementation.”

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