Farhan Al-Mohammed – Deir Ezzor
“My family’s needs are many. Sometimes, we only eat bread. My father passed away a long time ago, and I am the eldest among my siblings and the responsible for taking care of them. I left school since my father’s death. At first, it was difficult for me to ask people for money and seek their sympathy. But, when I remember how much I was exploited whenever I tried to work, I got used to it and it became normal routine to access money”.
We spoke to Ali, a 13-year-old boy who saw begging and asking people for money as a means to obtain it after the death of his father and his family’s poor economic situation and exploitation by the people he worked for.
A report issued by the Independent International Investigation Commission on the Syrian Arab Republic in 2020 showed that the years of war carried flagrant violations of children’s basic rights, including killing, maiming, orphanhood, deprivation of education, and bearing the brunt of violence committed by the conflicting parties, besides the displacement of more than five million children inside and outside Syria.
Among the factors contributing to the spread of the phenomenon of child begging in the northeastern regions of Syria are the deterioration of the economic situation, the collapse of the education sector, and the dropout of children from schools. However, the most influential factor is the absence of legal deterrent and the failure to impose compulsory education by the controlling authorities. Additionally, many families have lost their breadwinners due to the war, further exacerbating the situation.
We met with Ali and his mother in their small house that shelters them in the village of (Al-Z’ghair) in Deir Ezzor. Ali speaks with a tired expression on his face despite his young age. He says, “My family has many needs, and sometimes we eat only bread. My father passed away a while ago, and I am the oldest among my siblings, responsible for them. I left school after my father’s death. I worked in a grocery store and also worked for a car mechanic. I cleaned the floor and organized the workshop, but they didn’t pay me full wages, and sometimes, due to a small mistake I made, they would deprive me of my full day’s pay. This happened repeatedly, and I don’t have anyone to demand my rights. One time, I was in the market and saw children going into shops and asking for money from both shop owners and passersby, and most people would give them money. After a few days, I tried to do the same. I went to the market and started asking people for money, telling them that I needed it”. Ali fell silent for a moment, sadness filling his tired eyes, and continued: “I really needed it. Most people would give me money, and I would collect enough to meet our basic needs. At first, it was difficult for me to ask people for money and appeal to their sympathy, but I remembered how I was exploited when I tried to work. So, I got used to it and started doing it repeatedly to earn money”. The mother spoke to us: “Ali’s father passed away five years ago. I am a mother of two children. After my husband’s death, our situation became too difficult, and no one extended a helping hand to us. I tried to improve our situation, but the circumstances didn’t support me. I didn’t agree to let Ali leave school, but I couldn’t convince him, and he insisted on working. He has been exploited a lot, and as a woman without anyone’s support, I couldn’t secure his rights. I am not satisfied with what Ali is doing, but I have no other choice”.
Mr. Yahya Al-Abed, Director of the Education and Protection Project at Bahar Organization, said: “We target and attract children who have dropped out of education and registration is made through our centers located in the targeted villages, we educate and rehabilitate children who have dropped out of education through accelerated education, provide them with psychological support and then return them to school in cooperation with the Education Committee. We have been working on this project since the beginning of 2022 in Deir Ezzor from the village of Al-Jazra to the town of Al-Kasrah, as well as working in the town of Hajin and Al-Sousah by covering the difference and lack of education among children who have dropped out of school, which hinders them from enrolling in school, we help them return to school without resorting to the street, looking for work or other means”.
We met Mohammed, a 14-year-old boy living in one of the informal camps in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, a displaced person from the village of (Al-Khraita), Muhammad says while sitting in front of his tent and next to his mother and three siblings: “I never went to school. My father has been missing since the beginning of the war, and we don’t have any relatives here. My younger sister has diabetes and constantly needs medication. My siblings and I looked for work, but we couldn’t find any. So, we started asking people on the street for money to buy medicine for my sister and to support our livelihood. We have been doing this for a long time because my mother cannot work due to an injury to her left hand during the early days of the war. She has faced a lot of mistreatment from some of the people I ask for money. The children say that I am a beggar. When they say that, it makes me feel very sad. I didn’t choose to do this, but it is the circumstances that led me here. I look at other children who come out of school and buy sweets, but I feel like that is not my right”.
In an interview with Duha Al-Owais, head of the Child Protection Office of the Women’s Committee in the Deir Ezzor sector, she told us: “We follow up on children’s cases in the event that a complaint is submitted about a child whose rights are violated. We follow up on cases of child abduction in coordination with the Interior and Organized Crime Committee, and cases of children with disabilities. We follow up with the Social Affairs and Labor Committee to provide the necessary support. Also, we follow up on the cases of children who joined the military forces. We can release them and return them to their families. So far, we have not received any complaints regarding child begging. However, if we receive a complaint of this kind, we deal with it according to the nature of the complaint, and if the child’s begging is due to his desire and the desire of his family, we interfere within our competence. We conduct an awareness-raising session with the child and his family, and if there is exploitation of the child by anyone, even if it is his family, we intervene and raise an invitation to the person who exploits the child for social justice or any concerned party and follow it up. We do not yet have any clear plans regarding reducing child begging, but we are working to develop the office work and expanding its access to grant the right of any child who reaches out to us”.
Article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse”. Article 32 focuses on the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation. Article 28 affirms the child’s right to education.
Syria is a state party to the Convention and is bound by it. These children are victims of war and poverty, and all parties to the conflict are responsible.
It is necessary to work jointly and cooperate between all working parties to reduce and address this phenomenon and to secure a safe environment for the child to be in his home and school seats and not on the sidewalks of the streets.
Based on our field monitoring and interviews with various local organizations, we found that local organizations have limited capabilities and are much smaller than the needs of the community, and children in particular.
Cases of begging and school dropouts increase dramatically every year. The staff of the organizations we met told us that they are doing what they can, but it is clear that Syria in general, and its northeast in particular, needs an integrated plan to overcome the phenomenon of child begging and its causes, and to return children to their schools and safe homes.