Child Labour in Palestine

The total Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is around 3.7 million. Population density is very high, and in the Gaza Strip it is the highest in the world (3278 person/km sq). The people live in three different environments: urban cities (53%), villages (31%) and refugee camps (16%), each with its own demographic characteristics. Children aged 18 and under constitute 53% of the population.

Definitions and Statistics:

There is no clear definition of street children used in the Palestinian territories. Although they are sometimes referred to as “One Shekel Kids” (Shekel is the currency used in the West Bank and Gaza and it equals 1/3.3 of the US dollar), it is through their association with child labour that they are most often recognised. As such, street children in the Palestinian context may perhaps best be termed “children who spend all day until sunset or later in the streets, markets, traffic jams and Israeli checkpoints, begging, working or selling small trinkets”.

Children’s economic contributions within the family sphere are not normally labelled as “child labour” – on the contrary, it is generally considered to be beneficial for the child to learn a skill that will guarantee a future income, particularly in cities and refugee camps. However, the incidence of children working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has noticeably increased in the last two decades to include street peddlers and more hazardous labour. This is largely due to the deterioration of the socio-economic conditions in the Palestinian community, which is heavily dependent on and vulnerable to the fluctuations and closures in the Israeli market.

Israeli checkpoints make a natural gathering place for child workers because of the permanent queues of people waiting to pass through the barriers. Most of the children here work to support their families, pay for school fees and their basic personal needs. They work an average of 9.45 hours every day, with some working as long as 12 hours, and their average daily earnings are 20-30 shekels (approx. $5-8). By working in these hostile and tense environments, the children are at significant risk of being caught in crossfire or being abused by other children, the Israeli army or the Palestinian police.

Factors pushing children onto the streets:

Poor Education Systems:
Educational expenses oblige low-income families to send their children to work, and there is a general devaluation of education in that it does not necessarily help secure employment in the short term. A lack of guidance and an inability for children to adapt to the formal school system has also led to many dropouts.

Poverty:
The scale and scope of poverty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has also reached unprecedented levels. Statistics released in 2002 indicate that more than two-thirds of the Palestinian population are living on less than $1.90 a day. Children disproportionately absorb the consequences of this poverty in that they constitute over half the population, with the mean household size being around 7 persons. Large family sizes but decreasing family incomes has forced many children to take to the streets, and this is reflected in the statistical surveys, which show, for example, that the percentage of working children from low-income families rose from 5% in 1999 to 20% just one year later.

House Demolition:
The conflict with Israel has had terrible effects on the infrastructure of Palestinian communities. Between September 2000 and April 2003, the homes of over 12,000 people were demolished in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the first three months of 2003 alone, 221 shelters were damaged beyond repair, and over 400 families were rendered homeless.

The Palestinian Labour Law

On the level of legislation, the new Palestinian Child Draft Law stipulated in Article 14 that “It is forbidden to employ children less than 15 years old,” while article 43 also prohibits begging. Article 44 enumerates different categories of children considered to be in “difficult circumstances” (including homeless children, school dropouts and beggars), and then stipulates that the state “should take all appropriate procedures to rehabilitate – physically and psychologically – and to socially reintegrate” these children (article 46/2). In other words, the legislation is there but the implementation is poor.

One negative aspect of the Palestinian Labour Law is Article 99, which excludes the application of these provisions to children who work for their first degree relatives (immediate family). This deprives a huge number of children of their rights, as many can only find work with their parents or brothers.

Challenges and Constraints

The legislation in different parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a combination of laws issued under different occupations and administrations. This has made the implementation of legislation very complicated and confusing, with inadequate mechanisms of inspection or punishment in case of violation.

The Role of PGFTU

The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) has been working on the Child Labour issue in the West Bank and Gaza. Together with ILO, PGFTU worked on establishing the above-mentioned articles in the Palestinian Labour Law. Some workshops were also conducted on child labour issues, especially for parents to educate them about the negative aspects of child labour.

Case Study

Ala is a 14 year old boy originally from Gaza, His family moved to Ramallah eight years ago. He has eight brothers and sisters and his father is unemployed. Ala works after school and during his summer holidays, he sells gum and sweets around the restaurants in Ramallah for two Shekels each; he says some people are nice to him and give him extra money when buying but some others yell at him and ask him to stay away from them. Ala says sometimes he makes 25 Shekels and some other days he makes 100 hundred Shekels. He saves up the money to give to his family, as his father has lost his job due to the current political situation and his mother doesn’t work. It is up to him and his brother to make sure that there is enough money to pay the school fees.

Those children not only suffer from the people who humiliate them in the street but also from the Palestinian police who beat and humiliate them.

The restaurants mangers and stores owners where the children are selling their stuff are always shouting at them and kicking them from one place to another.

Mini Action Guide: Child Labour