By / Fedaa al-Qedra
Omar sits at the roadside on a cardboard box, resting against his bag. His knees are pressed against his chest. He rolls himself up into a ball like a fetus, perhaps hoping and believing that he has not been born yet.
Sounds grow around him but the silence of the world possesses him.
Coins are dropped in front of him and people pass where he sits, but for him his name and his existence are both just a curse.
A girl of the same age passes him. Taking a coin from her hand and giving it to him, she thanks Lord that she has not experienced a similar fate as this boy has.
Another child from Gaza sits at a crossroad west of Gaza City. He is carrying a can filled with chewing gum in his hand, and offers his tears to passers-by who will never know the secrets behind those tears. He does not speak a word, and pretends that he is unable to speak.
For these children, and for dozens of others who are forcibly driven to the streets to work, there is no official recognition. Government officials refuse to characterize their existence as a reality in the life of Palestine, despite the fact that findings of a labor force survey in 2012 clearly indicated that the number of working children between the ages of 10 to 17, whether paid or not paid, was 4.1 % of the total number of children in Palestine - 5.8 % in the West Bank, and 1.5 % in the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, some non-governmental organizations, who advocate against child labor, observe that the hidden statistics for working children are twice the official numbers that have been released. And they refuse to describe the issue as one of isolated cases.
It is not difficult to find these vendor children, both male and female, in a community where the poverty rate has reached 39% and the unemployment rate has reached 40%, according to statistics released by the Human Rights Protection center. There is no corner in the park or the beach free of these children, who never tire from wooing customers with a language closer to begging, a situation that makes them vulnerable to exploitation and extortion, and easy prey for criminals.
A short visit to the Unknown Soldier Park in central Gaza City, for example, is sufficient to discover the large number of the children who are working in this park as street vendors or as footmen for others. And the truth is that they work for pittance.
It may seem that the reason for child labor is the deteriorating economic situation, but the primary reasons behind this phenomenon are families who are unaware or in outright dereliction, where families and the government choose not to follow regulations that are defined under the Palestinian law – regulations that define the responsibilities of these parties regarding children.
Mohammed Kahlout, an official in the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that his ministry, through a network of child protection agencies, helps the working children by integrating them into the national program for social protection, where they can benefit from the funds provided by the Social Affairs Ministry and from food parcels for their families, as well as health insurance benefits.
He explained that a local cultural attitude sees in the work of children a necessary social inheritance, on the grounds that it creates people who are able to rely on themselves in the future. This attitude contributes to an increase in the number of the children working.
He added that the high rate of reproduction of Palestinian families was also a motivation behind child labor – as a way of compensating for the shortages that families experience with lower incomes and higher expenses.a
He stressed that the number of female child workers is much lower than the number of males, but he pointed out that these girls become vulnerable to blackmail through their presence on the street
As to the statistics available for these working girls, the results of the Labor Force Survey 2012, indicate that the number of girls enrolled in school and working is 0.5% while the number of girls not enrolled in school and working is 2.8%.