Friday, September 15, 2006

Poverty drives children to work at checkpoints

12 September 2006

WEST BANK - Six months of a crippling international
embargo on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) has
brought its economy to a virtual standstill. As a result,
children are being driven increasingly to find work to
help support their families.

"After my father became jobless, I joined my friends to
work at the checkpoint in order to support my 11-member
family," said Subhi Abdullah 16, referring to his
unofficial job at al-Hawawer Israeli checkpoint in the
West Bank city of Hebron.

The embargo followed the democratic election of a
Hamas-led government in February. Hamas is considered a
terrorist organisation by the West and Israel.

With a population of 4.2 million people, oPt comprises the
West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

While plans were announced on Monday for a Palestinian
unity government that could meet conditions to have the
embargo lifted, ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer.

According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics
(PCBS), 40,000 children under 18 work in oPt - 73 percent
of whom were forced to work due to severe financial

Subhi goes to al-Hawawer checkpoint every morning,
dragging his steel handcart behind him. He competes with
other boys to get two or three shekels (45 to 70 US cents)
a time for carrying the luggage of travellers.

Forty percent of the West Bank has been under the limited
civilian jurisdiction of the Palestinian government since
the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, while Israel
maintains overall control - hence the checkpoints.

"One man's poison is another man's meat," said Subhi, when
asked what he felt about the existence of the checkpoints.

Israel has set up hundreds of checkpoints across the West
Bank for "security reasons", its army says. These
checkpoints make it difficult for Palestinians to move
freely from town to town; sometimes even from village to

Subhi said he leaves home at daybreak. He goes to school
first, then to the checkpoint. By the time he gets back
home in the evening, he is completely worn out. "My
studies have been negatively affected. I do not have
enough time to study. I think it is useless," said Subhi.

Abdul Rahman, 14, from al-Khader village near Bethlehem,
works at the al-Khader checkpoint. He prefers working than
going to school.

"I impatiently wait for the school bell to ring. And when
it does, I take my handcart, which I leave beside my
school, and rush to the checkpoint. I leave my school bag
with my younger brother, who takes it home," Abdul Rahman
said. "I start looking around with my colleagues to get
travellers' bags and transfer them to the other side of
the checkpoint."

While these checkpoint children or 'the little porters',
as they are sometimes called, are of great benefit to
travellers, NGOs and relief agencies are concerned with
their welfare and with the impact of the checkpoints on
the Palestinian population.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has said that
the prevalence of checkpoints coupled with Israel's
intermittent curfews are hampering the education system in
oPt. More than 225,000 children and 9,300 teachers in the
West Bank face a daily struggle to get to school

According to the children's agency, two thirds of
Palestinian children live below the poverty line (US$2 a
day), 38 percent of Palestinian children are anaemic and
23 percent of students and 36 percent of teachers are
unable to get to school on any given day.

A Palestinian Child Draft Law states that it is forbidden
to employ children below 15 years of age. It stipulates
that the state should take all appropriate procedures to
rehabilitate working children - physically and

While the little porters continue to relieve travellers'
burdens, no one is helping them relieve theirs.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news
and information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN
material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge;
refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is
a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs.


Job said...

Maybe, instead of focusing on killing and terrorism, and focusing on building a prosperous life, your children would not live in poverty.

Asad Ramallah said...

i feel sorry for the children,
it is sad to know that they need to work in such age.

asad al-nimr