Instead of going to school, Walid and Ibrahim spend hours each day rummaging through houses destroyed in Gaza’s wars in search of scrap to raise a few shekels for their families.
They were once good students, but Walid Maaruf, 11, and Ibrahim Ghaben, 12, had to quit school and earn a living when their fathers lost their jobs.
Israeli and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fought three wars since 2008, including a devastating 50-day conflict in 2014 in the tiny Mediterranean territory.
Residents have lived under a punitive Israeli blockade imposed 10 years ago and their options are further limited by Egypt, which has largely kept its border with Gaza closed since 2013.
About half the enclave’s 1.9 million inhabitants live under the poverty line, with 80 percent surviving on humanitarian aid.
Unemployment has risen dramatically to about 45 percent — one of the highest in the world — forcing many children to become bread-winners.
Today, the International Labour Organization marks World Day Against Child Labour, an initiative that has seen the number of child workers drop to 168 million from 246 million in 2000.
However, in Gaza the trend has been upward.
According to Palestinian estimates, child labor has doubled over the past five years, with 9,700 children aged between 10 and 17 working in the enclave.
“My father is unemployed, he used to gather stones and scrap metal ... but now I work,” said Ibrahim, who earns about 20 shekels (US$5.18) a day — toiling six to 12 hours — to feed his family of nine.
The boy, who looks much older than his age, said he and his father used to transport their find on a donkey-drawn cart, “but the donkey died.”
All day long, often under a searing sun or howling wind, boys like Walid and Ibrahim scour flashpoint Beit Lahiya — near the border fence with Israel in northern Gaza — for scrap to sell to recycling firms.
The area is attractive because of potential finds of lead from Israeli munitions, but also carries the risk of drawing gunfire from border guards.
“Most of the children who work do so in neighborhoods along the border fence and these are the poorest areas,” said psychologist Aida Kassab from the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.
“Sometimes these children are only five and yet they are forced to do a job which is not appropriate for their age, their physical or psychological state,” Kassab said.
Akram Saeed, 14, said he spent years gathering scrap, but now he wants out and would like to “learn a useful skill” to improve the lot of his four siblings and parents.
Help came in the form of a Swiss children’s relief agency, Terre des Hommes, which helps families send their children back to school or to attend vocational courses.
“The phenomenon of children who work reflects the economic and social situation of the Gaza Strip,” said Khitam Abu Hamad, who represents the non-governmental organization in Gaza.
“There is no job market in Gaza,” she said.
Palestinian law bans children under 15 from working, but “it is rarely applied,” said Iyad Abu Hujayr of the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.
He said enforcement has been hampered by divisions between the Muslim movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
These divisions have also allowed abuse by some employers who often force children to work a 12-hour day for as little as 20 shekels, he said.
The situation is far from improving, said Hyam al-Jarjawi, who is in charge of children’s affairs at the Hamas-run ministry of social affairs.
With each war, “there is more poverty and the more the number of child laborers increases,” she said.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting