Sunday, May 18, 2014

Somalia's Child Labour

War and famine in Somalia have forced Halima, and thousands of others like herself, to abandon the dream of education and become workers instead. UNICEF statistics from 2011, the last time such data was collected, show that half of all children between the ages of five and 14 hailing from the country’s central and southern regions are employed. In Puntland and Somaliland, which have been more stable than other parts of Somalia for the past two decades, more than a quarter of all children work for a living.

The grueling jobs for which they are hired – mostly manual and domestic labour – pay little but demand a lot. Twelve-year-old Halima Mohamed Ali says she works as a nanny for five children from “sunrise to sunrise”, cooking, ironing, washing floors, bathing the children, and finally putting them to bed before calling it a day.  Her 50-dollar monthly salary is a lifeline for her family of five, who have no other breadwinner.  Ali told IPS, “If I miss even a single day of work, my family will go to bed hungry.”

 According to Mohamed Abdi, programme manager of Somali Peace Line, an organisation that promotes and protects the rights of children, “Hundreds of girls are brought to Mogadishu from rural areas where there is extreme poverty and famine conditions … to work as domestic servants in middle-class homes. They work long hours for food, lodging and low wages, which they send back to their families.” The “Lucky ones” like Ali get paid on a regular basis many others have their meagre salaries withheld for months, are cut off from their families, abused and treated like slaves. “When we try to convince parents not to send their children to work, they ask us for alternative sources of income, which we cannot provide,” he admitted.

In addition to being vulnerable to informal labour conditions such as long hours, children like 11-year-old Hassan Abdullahi Duale also receive lower wages than their adult counterparts, even when they perform all the same functions. Duale – the only boy in the family – left school and took a job in a car-repair centre where he works 12-hour days to support his mother and two young sisters. “On a good day, when there are lots of cars to fix, I earn 50 Somali shillings (about 2.5 dollars) a day. On bad days, I am just given my lunch and sent home with nothing,” said Duale

 70 percent of the population of 10.2 million are classified as “low-income”, with 73 percent of all Somalis living on less than two dollars a day. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, with 54 percent of all Somalis between the ages of 15 and 64 out of work. The director-general of Somalia’s ministry of human development and public services, Aweys Sheikh Haddad, said his country’s constitution bans child labour, adding that the government recently ratified an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention forbidding the worst forms of child labour. But challenges in law enforcement mean these commitments on paper have not amounted to much in practice. Various studies and reports have found children as young as five years old engaged in virtually every industry, from construction to agriculture. Only 710,860 youth out of 1.7 million primary school-aged children are enrolled in any kind of education.

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