Fahad Al Hassan – Deir Ezzor
When Will I Have the Right to Learn?
This question, which has long been raised by the 12-year-old Abbas and his 15-year-old brother Mohammed, in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, to their father after they are forced to work due to harsh living conditions. Abbas and Mohammed work in sewing from 9 a.m. to sunset in order to secure the family’s food instead of their father, who is unable to do any work because of his health condition, which sometimes prevents him from moving.
“I don’t have time to learn, because the working time is the same as school time. I can’t leave work for school and no one teaches me at home because my parents are uneducated. I don’t receive enough humanitarian assistance. I hope my parents have an alternative financial income so I can go to school and start learning with my brother”, Mohammed said.
Children in poor areas, especially in periods of war and conflict, pay the heaviest price as a result of poverty and family disintegration, forcing them to seek any job opportunities in various circumstances, which may put them at serious and multiple risks.
Abdullah, 16-year-old, is the eldest son of his family of four who live in the Al Izba area with their mother, who was divorced four years ago, works in a restaurant since he was 12-years-old. He initially went to work after finishing school, but because of his mother’s recent illness, he had to leave school permanently in order to increase his income to secure medications for his mother.
“When I dropped out of school and went to work, it was hard for me because I was not fit to work for long and exhausting times, but now I realized that this thing is right being the eldest of the family and that we are displaced, we don’t have a lot of options and we have to secure our basic needs. The rent of the house we reside in needs extra work where it reaches 50,000 Syrian pounds”, Abdullah said, smiling with tearful eyes.
Abdullah attributes the reason for everything that happened to them to his father who left them and do not know anything about him. He even does not communicate with them at all. Abdullah comments: “If my father sends us an allowance, and this is our right, it would have been enough to continue my study and do a part-time job instead of my long and tiring one. I am often exploited in my work where I do not get paid properly for the effort I make and the number of hours I spend, but I can speak out of fear that I will be fired”.
Grueling and Arduous Work
Khalid, a pseudonym, 14-year-old, is no better off. He is the brother of two girls and a young child from the western countryside of Deir Ezzor. Their father died in a bomb remnant of war three years ago. Khalid’s mother worked in farming to support her family, but the decline in work in this sector in the area led to the loss of her work, which forced Khalid to leave his study and work in a shop for car maintenance for a small wage. Khalid describes his work as “grueling and arduous with lengthy working hours” but has no other options to secure his family’s expenses.
“Now that I love work after I have mastered it and my wage has risen. Now, I can fully secure my home needs as I am the breadwinner of my family after my father died”, Khalid says.
“I know Khalid has the right to learn and live a life where everything is available, but in our case we have no other choice. We have no breadwinner in the family but me and Khalid”, Khalid’s mother said.
“Khalid was one of the toppers in his school, and some of his teachers even said that Khalid’s absence left a sad mark on him being one of the toppers in his school,” she added regretfully.
Child Labor Effects
Abeer Al-Mohammed, a civil society activist, is working to hold awareness sessions in northern and eastern Syria to reduce the spread of child labour and its implications in many ways, as classified by the activist as divided into physical, social and economic effects.
As for the physical effects, Al-Mohammed said, “Many children are exposed to serious work diseases and injuries as a result of harsh working conditions that may not be suitable for the child’s physical and mental condition, such as noise, extreme heat, chemicals, mechanical hazards, fumes and dust, leading to the risk of many diseases as a result of poor conditions for children’s work”.
As for the social implications of child labor, Al-Mohammed continued, “Child labour deprives them of adequate access to education and enjoying their childhood, not to mention the prevalence of some bad habits among young people such as smoking and drug use, as well as the violation of the rights of the child working by employers and their exploitation by working long hours.”
Al-Mohammed draws attention to social factors that may lead to child labor and directly affect it, according to the activist, including “family disintegration”, which is a contributing factor in the emergence of child labour. The disintegration resulting from the death of one or both parents, the marriage of one parent with the inability to spend, and the divorce that places the burden of children’s education on the mother by virtue of the custody laws, which drives the child to the labor market to support himself and his family. Moreover, the increase in the number of members of the family and non-birth control that burden the breadwinner of the family leads to his inability to provide for the life requirements of his family.”
Solutions and Suggestions to Reduce the Phenomenon of Child Labor
Child labour is the result of a number of overlapping and interlocking factors that require the development of multiple strategies by different sectors and at different social levels. It is therefore necessary to establish cooperation between various sectors (labor, social, development, education, planning, youth) and various governmental and non-governmental organizations to agree on an effective way of combating child labor.
A report entitled “Small hands and a heavy burden” published by the UNICEF and Save the Children indicates that the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria are pushing increasing numbers of children to fall prey to exploitation in the labor market, and that Syrian children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to end the conflict in Syria.
In a report published by the UNICEF on June 10, 2021, it said the number of working children in the world had risen to 160 million, an increase of 8.4 million in the past four years.
In this regard, the activist presents a range of solutions that may help reducing this phenomenon, where she raises the awareness of community members through her various sessions in Deir Ezzor: “Conducting evidence-based research on occupational health and safety, the dangers to children in selected sectors, as well as involving national officials, local government officials, workers’ of organizations and employers in a policy making dialogue to improve the social and economic conditions of vulnerable children, through the development of training programmes and projects, whether government or civil society, labour organizations and employers to combat child labour, identify, prevent, remove and rehabilitate children involved.”
 The writer interviewed the children directly in the presence of one of their parent where the purpose of the interviews was presented in details.
 Small Hands Heavy Burden, Save the Children and the UNICEF, 2015.
 Child labour rises to 160 million – first increase in two decades, UNICEF, 2021.