Syrian children in random camps: hazardous work and rights violations

Mariam Ahmed didn’t turn twelve when she found herself working in a plastic house in high temperatures, alongside her studies, to support her father, who started working intermittently after the Corona pandemic.

Maryam, a refugee from Syria, has been working on a farm in Deir Alla, in the central Jordan Valley, Balqa province, for more than a year for a dinar per hour. Endure high temperatures, stand by your six brothers.

Maryam says that she started working after finishing the sixth grade, but she hopes that her family’s financial situation will improve so that she can continue her education.

“I am the oldest among my sisters. After I finished the sixth grade and passed the seventh grade, I started working. Every day after school I go to work and come back almost until sunset and some time before, but on Fridays and Saturdays I go in the morning, which means that work is hard, but we want to live,” says Maryam.

Mariam’s task at the farm is mainly to harvest agricultural products together with others, including children, who come from the same camp.

Maryam’s father, Khaldoun Ahmed, 40, who came to Jordan in 2013, is trying to protect his remaining children from entering the labor market and finishing their studies, but fears they won’t, he said.

“I am against child labor and I am mostly a teacher, but circumstances forced me and if the situation continues like this, I will have to because I have no choice,” added Ahmad.

Khaldoun Ahmed lives with dozens of Syrian refugee families in a randomly selected camp in Deir Alla, where they move from one area to another according to the seasons and the availability of jobs.

Dangerous work environment

Child labor in the agricultural sector is considered one of the most dangerous working environments for them, due to working under direct sunlight and using pesticides without receiving general safety instructions and how to handle them.

Salem, one of the children from the same camp, was not even 11 years old, but he went to work on a nearby farm, where he has worked with his forty-year-old father since he was nine years old.

Salem describes his work as grueling, working 3 or 4 hours straight; But “there is no solution, and this is his life”.

“The father says come on, and the teacher says come on, I don’t need a job, and I come back to die, and my whole body hurts,” added Salem.

Salem’s father initially refused to speak to the author of the report, believing that this would not be a solution to the problems of the many residents of the camp, especially in light of their deteriorating living conditions and poor assistance, but agreed to remain anonymous.

“There is no solution, we work to live, and the children have left school and are working. We have been in the same situation for ten years, but we don’t even know how long we will be like this,” says Salem’s father.

He adds that he is constantly afraid that his son Salem will suffer an injury at work, either “sunburn or suffocation from pesticides and other things”, because the employer will not sponsor his treatment and may throw them out of work.

Psychological consultant Taghreed Radi says that child labor has a significant impact due to its short-term and long-term effects on children, especially those under the age of 12; This is a critical period for their physical and mental development, which poses a danger to them, whether the jobs are easy or difficult, because they work without attention and caution, which increases the possibility of injuries at work, loss of one of the limbs, or premature aging due to carrying loads which are not proportionate to their body weight and death due to exposure to the risk of pesticide poisoning leading to serious chest diseases.

According to Rada, farms are one of the most dangerous sectors of work for children in terms of exposure to high temperatures. During her work with organizations in education programs, Counselor Taghreed witnessed the death of many children in random camps in collection points and ponds due to negligence and ignorance, either by employers or parents. .

Rady reminded that the biggest danger lies in taking away a child’s childhood and making them feel inferior, especially when they see their peers living their normal lives.

320 random campsites in Jordan

Random camps for Syrian refugees in Jordan are spread throughout the provinces of the Kingdom, for families working in the agricultural sector, as they move according to the agricultural seasons, but these camps lack services.

Osama Abu Kwaik, director of operations for the Mateen Foundation for Consulting and Training, says there are 320 random camps for Syrian refugees spread across all governorates, with the exception of Aqaba. Their conditions differ depending on the location of the camp.

“The number of children working in random camps depends on the season, because they mostly work in agriculture. The percentage varies depending on the agricultural season, and after the Corona pandemic, it increased a little. The percentage of child labor in these camps is 13-14%,” Abu Kwaik added. .

A 50-year-old Syrian refugee, Muhammad Sobeih, says that the inability to provide school fees for his children has forced him to withdraw his two daughters, aged 12 and 13, from school and start working on farms like others.

“My daughters haven’t been going to school for two years, they don’t know how to read and write well and they always ask to go back to school when they see the children from the camp going in the morning, but the situation is not allowing it,” added Sobeih.

In UNICEF’s response to five questions from the authors of the report on child labor among Syrian refugees, media officer Dima Salameh responded by email that “it is well known that there are no studies after the 2016 national survey, except for 4 links only to previous data from UNICEF.

A previous UNICEF report showed that half of the school-age children in informal camps were enrolled in formal education. However, that number dropped to less than one in five in the 16-17 age group.

The representative of UNICEF in Jordan, Tania Chapuisat, believes that the lack of school transport is one of the main obstacles that children face, and that UNICEF is working on. Child labor, economic hardship and a lack of digital access during school closures during the pandemic contributed to children in informal camps dropping out of school.

According to the latest 2016 Child Labor Survey, which includes data on child labor in Jordan and occupational risk ratios for each nationality, divided into 3 categories: Jordanians, Syrian refugees and “other nationalities”.

Results of the National Survey 2016

However, the results of a UN survey published last April showed that the percentage of working refugee children outside the camps increased from 1.8% in 2016 to 3.3% in 2021, almost doubling.

According to a study on refugee vulnerability assessment conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in cooperation with the World Bank, and the results were published recently, 3.3% of refugee children were involved in work activities in one way or another. , while 59% of working children work in a dangerous work environment.

17% of children work in the agricultural sector.

These are the results of the report on the increase in the percentage of employed refugee children.

The head of the Worker’s Home Center, lawyer Hamad Abu Najma, believes that the best solution to reducing children’s tendency to work is to solve poverty, which is the main reason.

“Governments and authorities should work with families to improve their financial situation by providing assistance and employment for the head of the family and one family member,” added Abu Najma.

According to the 2022 UNHCR Vulnerability Assessment Report in Jordan, the employment of one Syrian family member in Jordan is not enough to meet the household’s monthly needs. As a result, the number of civilian refugee families increased by 39% compared to 2018.

64% of refugees in Jordan live on less than 3 dinars a day, or about 4 dollars, and 90% of refugee families use at least one negative coping strategy.

breaking the law

Legal and labor expert Hamada Abu Najma believes that the supervision of the inspectors of the Ministry of Labor is weak, while the number of children on the labor market is more than 70,000, and it is expected that their number could increase to 100,000 due to the pandemic. working children.

The Ministry of Labor confirmed that it conducts continuous inspection tours in all sectors, including the agriculture sector. Ministry spokesman Jamil Al-Qadi said that the Directorate for Inspection Affairs conducts more than 23,000 tours during the year to control violations and misdemeanors, including child labor, in to all the governorates of the Kingdom.

Al-Qadi added that the Ministry of Labor has conducted more than 22,000 tours in different sectors during the current year and until October 1 last year.

“Every complaint received by the ministry is followed up through inspection tours, and the law is enforced when any violation is detected,” the judge said.

Until March 2021, the agricultural sector and its workers were not covered by the Labor Law, so the provisions related to child labor in the Labor Law did not apply to children working in the agricultural sector, but after the adoption of the Decree on Agricultural Workers in March 2021. the agricultural sector became covered by the Labor Law, and special provisions became applicable to child labor in the sector.

Article 75 of the Jordanian Labor Law prohibits the employment of minors for more than six hours a day, provided that they are given a rest of at least one hour after working for four consecutive hours. Salary, then the provisions apply to them, like other workers, including the minimum wage, which currently amounts to 260 dinars.

Article (76) of the Labor Law obliges the employer to keep documents and documents related to the minor when employing minors (between 16 and 18 years), the most prominent of which is the written consent of the minor’s guardian to work in a special institution. a file with sufficient information about the place of residence and the date of employment. The job in which he was employed and his wages and annual holidays.

Article 77 of the Labor Law punishes the employer who violates the provisions related to the work of minors or the system or the decision made based on them, with a fine of at least 300 dinars to 500 dinars.

If the use was made in a forced manner or under threat, fraud or coercion, the fine ranges from 500 to 1000 dinars, in addition to all penalties provided for by other laws.

Article (4) of the Regulation on Agricultural Workers from 2021 states:

1- Working time in agriculture is 8 hours per day, provided that it does not exceed 48 hours per week spread over a maximum of six days.

2- The agricultural worker will be given a rest and meal period of at least one hour per day, in accordance with the working conditions, and this will not be counted in the hours of agricultural work.

B. An agricultural worker cannot be employed without his consent for more than a daily or weekly working time, including the agricultural season and periods of agricultural production.

Jordan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child issued by the United Nations in 1989, which entered into force in 1990, along with some ILO conventions represented in the Convention on the Minimum Age for Employment No. 138, The worst forms of the Child Labor Convention no. 182 and Convention on Forced Labor no. 29.

And Jordan approved the Child Rights Law of 2022, which was published in the Official Gazette on October 12, and will come into force after ninety days.

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