Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Fathi al-Hashidi, eight, struggles to fix a tyre where he works in a vehicle repair workshop in the capital Sana'a.
Fathi al-Hashidi, eight, struggles to fix a tyre where he works in a vehicle repair workshop in the capital Sana'a.

Yemen's children forgo books for tools

From repair shops to farms, labourers as young as eight are put to work, but a US programme tries to get them back in school.

SANA'A // Fathi Khaled al Hashidi, eight, spends 16 hours a day working in a vehicle repair workshop in the capital Sana'a. "I work from eight o'clock in the morning until midnight throughout the week except Thursdays and Fridays. Sometimes I get 500 rials (Dh9) [a day] and sometimes I don't if there is no work," Fathi said, stumbling as his small body tried to lift a heavy jack. Fathi said he did not face any danger in his job, which he started four months ago, but his cousin, Anwar, 13, lost one of his eyes while working in a welding shop. According to a 2001 government survey, the number of children working in Yemen is 421,000. The survey revealed 52 per cent of child labourers were girls and 48 per cent boys, aged between 10 and 14. However, Muna Salem, the director of the child labour unit at the ministry of social affairs and labour, said the real figure was much higher. "I believe this figure is not accurate because working children change their workplaces every now and then. During summer holidays, the number of working children increases as some finish school and go to work. Some children work with their parents and are not included in such surveys," Ms Salem said. She said her ministry will carry a nationwide survey in April or May. Child workers in Yemen - where half of the 22 million people are children and 43 per cent of the population lives on less than US$2 (Dh7.3) a day - work as street vendors, in restaurants, bus stations and factories, at construction sites and in vehicle repair workshops. A large number also work in agriculture, Ms Salem said, where the chemicals with which they work can damage the nervous system, putting the children at risk of diseases, skin inflammation, stomach problems and epilepsy. Ms Salem said a lack of awareness about the dangers of child labour was contributing to an increase in the practice. "There is not enough awareness of the hazards working children face, particularly those working in workshops and farms using pesticides and chemicals," she said. "Some children working in fishing sometimes spend nights at sea away from their families and some even die. Some working children undergo sexual abuse. Some even become aggressive towards the society." A high level of school dropouts and truancy - the results of an unwelcoming schooling environment, aggressive teachers, poor facilities and overcrowded classes - were also behind the rise in child labour, Ms Salem said. According to the ministry of education's comprehensive school survey for 2006, 46 per cent of Yemen's 7.4 million primary school children do not attend classes. In order to address the worst forms of child labour, a new US-funded programme, Alternatives to Combat Child Labour through Education and Sustainable Services, was launched last month in four of Yemen's 21 governorates. "This new programme will target the worst forms of child labour in Aden, Hajja, Hodiedah and Taiz governorates. These governorates were selected because of the high incidence of child labour, mainly in agriculture and fishing as well as urban-based jobs. Hajja was mainly selected because of the high occurrence of child trafficking to Saudi Arabia through and from Hajja," said Kunera Moore, the programme's director. The three-year programme is funded by the US department of labour at a cost of $3 million and will be implemented by the US-based Co-operative Housing Foundation (CHF) and the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, a local non-governmental organisation. "We will withdraw 4,100 children from the worst forms of child labour by removing them from their work or transferring them into acceptable forms of work for children. In addition, we will work with 3,000 children who are at risk of entering the worst forms of child labour, because of their family circumstances," Ms Moore said. "Some children are used in smuggling of flour, khat [a mildly narcotic leaf] or animals across the border with Saudi Arabia and sometimes they are abused sexually. Others are being trafficked to work or beg in Saudi Arabia." The government has been asked to expand the programme to cover all of Yemen. The CHF started working on child labour in 2004 and has managed to get 2,800 children back to formal education, literacy classes or vocational training. Yemen's children rights law sets the working age at 14 and limits the time at work to six hours with an hour break. For eight-year-old Fathi, the law means nothing as he has to work to support his family and his desire to go to school seems a distant dream. He moved from his home village, Hashid, with his eight-member family to Sana'a following a dispute with his uncle. As a result of his father's psychological problems, he had to quit school and work. "I would like to go back to school, he said. "I don't want to work." malqadhi@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National