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Neglect Drives Child Labor in Syria

Hassan Alhamdi, 12, says he gave up his dreams of being a teacher because he has to work to feed his family. Dec. 1, 2020. (VOA)
Neglect Drives Child Labor in Syria
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Small groups of children near Idlib, Syria, can often be found working in large fields of trash. They look for plastic bottles and bags, soda cans or pieces of metal to sell to help feed their families.

Twelve-year-old Hassan Alhamdi is one of those children. He says he once had dreams of growing up to be a teacher. But now he is proud to be able to provide for his family.

“I collect plastic bags for work,” he says. “I leave in the morning and come back at night. I bring food and bread for my siblings.”

Hassan, his parents and his seven brothers and sisters fled their home in Idlib more than a year ago.

Almost one million other people were forced out of their homes because of fighting in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Now, Hassan and his siblings work every day of the week. They do not go to school.

FILE - Syrian siblings, displaced from eastern Idlib province, pose for a picture in a tent at Atmeh camp in Syria, near the Turkish border, June 19, 2020.
FILE - Syrian siblings, displaced from eastern Idlib province, pose for a picture in a tent at Atmeh camp in Syria, near the Turkish border, June 19, 2020.

Their parents say it is saddening to watch their children grow up without an education. Aid organizations and other governments have not helped them, says the children’s mother, Mahdiye Alhamad.

“These jobs will impact everything about their future,” she said. “They don’t even know how to write.”

Out of school

Ali is Hassan Alhamdi’s 11-year-old brother. He says he dreams of having a bicycle, a football and an education. But for now, he says, he is mostly just tired.

"I wish I could go to school,” he added. “It would be better. But we are working.”

The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch says about 2 million children inside Syria do not go to school. Outside the country, nearly one million Syrian refugee children are also not attending classes.

The United Nations children’s organization UNICEF says millions more children are being pushed into the workforce as poverty deepens because of the pandemic. The longer children remain out of school, the organization says, the less likely it is that they will have the chance to return.

Non-governmental organizations have set up some schools in the Idlib area. But officials at the schools say that many children who do attend class come in late or leave early for their jobs.

“Everything in our society has changed from the war,” said Muzn Naes, a school supervisor. “Some students work because their families are poor. Others have parents that were killed or wounded.”

Along with missing their education, children are in danger of getting injured or treated unfairly at work, Naes said. Child labor also could worsen the area’s already weakened economy.

“Child labor affects everything in society,” she said. “And when it increases, so does unemployment. Employers hire children for low pay, replacing adults.”

Selling the trash collected in the fields is not enough to support Hassan and Ali Alhamdi and the other families. Increasingly, the boys have to walk farther and farther from home to find enough trash to sell.

“I’m getting so tired, but what can I do?” Hassan Alhamdi said. “This is our situation. We have to work to feed ourselves.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Heather Murdock reported on this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

trash n. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown away

siblingsn. brothers and/or sisters

soda n. a drink made of soda water, flavoring, and often ice cream

society n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values

impactv. to have a strong and often bad effect on (something or someone)