Unions Fight Child Labor in Palestine

Poor education, poverty, and unemployment due to decades of occupation have pushed children in Palestine into the streets, where they beg passersby to purchase chewing gum, clothing, and other items. By raising awareness of this humanitarian crisis and pushing for better laws, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) is part of the fight to end child labor and make sure children can stay in school. PGFTU recently published the stories of two children, Ahmed and Jarrah, in an effort to spread the word.

 

Ahmed: ‘I Will Not Leave School’

Ahmed (not his real name) stands at a traffic light in the cold, carrying packs of chewing gum in his little hands, knocking on the windows of the stopped cars in the hope that someone will buy the chewing gum he is selling. Some buy the gum, some reprimand him, and some ignore him. As a luxury car comes to a stop, he pleads with his eyes. The woman in the car condescends to him and buys a pack of gum, giving him 5 shekels (about $1). His face shows his delight at the generosity of this rich woman.

Ahmed is 14 years old. After his father died, as the oldest of four brothers, he had to take responsibility and help provide for his family. Although his mother receives a widow’s pension from the ministry of social affairs, it is not enough to support all of them in light of prohibitive prices, which increase day by day. “Almost every day, as soon as school ends, I go to the traffic light carrying gum to sell,” he says. “I spend three to four hours per day selling it and earn a maximum of 30 to 50 shekels ($6 to $10), which goes to help my family.”

Ahmed is focused on getting a good education, though. “I will not leave school,” he says, “but will work after school, and I will complete my education and enter university, and I will realize the dream of my father, with Allah’s mercy, and become an engineer.”

Jarrah: Selling the Quran between Cars

On the way to Nablus from Haifa Street, near the Mosque of Peace, the bearded Sheikh sees him selling the Quran—the little boy who jumps from one corner to another, chasing this car and that, trying to persuade passengers to buy a copy of the holy book, asking them how many shekels they can spare, begging them to take pity on a child who must earn a livelihood in this way.

Jarrah (not his real name) is 12 years old and lives in the Ein refugee camp, near Nablus. He has been selling the Quran for a year. Before that he sold clothes, he says, but people refused to buy them, so he switched to prayer papers, but the prayers were not popular either. “Then I was asked by a bearded young man living in the camp to sell Qurans for him for 5 shekels each, and he told me that he would give me a half-shekel for each Quran I sell,” says Jarrah. “The demand for the Quran is acceptable.”

Sometimes Jarrah does not succeed in the hunt for customers, and he must work for several additional hours, regardless of the harshness of the night or the cold of winter. He recognizes that selling in traffic scares him even more than the cold weather. Often he returns to his home at the camp with only a few shekels to spare for school expenses. Jarrah admits that most of the time he does not get home until after midnight and falls asleep before he can review his lessons for the next day. Because of this, he says, his grades at school are bad, but he has no choice: He must work to support himself and his family.