Child labor rises in Gaza amid soaring unemployment

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Child Labor in Gaza
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Child labor rises in Gaza amid soaring unemployment
Palestinian boy Mahmoud al-Sindawi, 15, sells balloons and footballs at the Seaport of Gaza City March 17, 2016. Sindawi, whose father is unemployed, earns around 25 Shekels ($6.4) per working day and he and his brother are the main breadwinners of their family. He hopes to be a trader as he still goes to school. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Sabri Attalah, 17, works at a pottery workshop in Gaza City March 21, 2016. Attalah, who works along with his family members at their workshop, earns around 25 Shekels ($6.4) per working day. The boy, who quit school, hoped to be a design engineer. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Haitham Khzaiq, 16, who quit school six months ago, sells sweet-topped apples at the Seaport of Gaza City March 17, 2016. Khzaiq, whose father is unemployed, earns 20 Shekels ($5.1) per working day and he is the sole breadwinner of his family. He hoped to be an architect engineer. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Ahmed Baker, 16, sells hot drinks on a mobile cart at the Seaport of Gaza City March 17, 2016. Baker, whose father is unemployed, earns around 20 Shekels ($5.1) a day and he is the sole breadwinner of his family. He hoped to be a doctor before quitting school. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Mohammad al-Bana, 10, sells mints at a market in Gaza City March 29, 2016. Bana, whose father is unemployed, earns around 10 Shekels ($2.5) per day. The boy starts working after finishing school. He hopes to continue education and become an engineer in the future. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Mohammad Dader, 12, who works as apprentice mechanic, helps his employer at a garage in Gaza City March 17, 2016. Dader, whose father is a milk seller, earns 30 Shekels ($7.7) a week to help his father support their family. The boy, who quit school, hopes to own a garage in the future. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian boy Mahand Salama, 13, hires out his toy car for children to enjoy a ride at the Seaport of Gaza City March 17, 2016. Salama, whose father is unemployed, charges 1 Shekel ($0.25) per ride and earns around 25 Shekels ($6.4) per working day. He and his two brothers are the main breadwinners of their family. He hopes to be a doctor as he still goes to school. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian boy Abed al-Kareem Yassin, 16, works at a construction site of a house in Gaza City March 21, 2016. Yassin, whose father is unemployed, earns 40 Shekels ($10.3) per working day, and he and his two brothers are the main breadwinners of his family. The boy, who quit school, hopes to be a mechanic. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Mohamoud Yazji, 16, who works as apprentice mechanic, repairs a car at a garage in Gaza City March 17, 2016. Yazji, whose father works as a tailor, earns 50 Shekels ($12.9) a week to help his father support their family. The boy, who quit school, hopes to own a garage in the future. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
Palestinian boy Mohammad al-Asi, 16, repairs a fishing net at the Seaport of Gaza City March 29, 2016. Asi, who helps his father support their family, earns around 50 Shekels ($12.9) per week. Quitting school two years ago, the boy hopes to be a fisherman in the future. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem 
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GAZA, March 30 (Reuters) - Child labor has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave's 43 percent unemployment rate.

In the past five years, the number of working children between the ages of 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the territory, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.

The bureau said 2,900 of those children are below the legal employment age of 15. Economists in the narrow coastal strip, home to 1.9 million Palestinians, estimate the real number of underage workers could be twice as high.

The increase in Gaza goes against trends. The International Labour Organization says the worldwide number of children in labor has fallen by a third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million, with more than a fifth in sub-Saharan Africa.

At one garage in downtown Gaza, 16-year-old Mahmoud Yazji and another boy, aged 12, work nine hours a day. Mahmoud said he earns the equivalent of $13 a week; the younger boy takes home half of that.

"My father makes 1,000 shekels ($258) a month. It disappears in a few days and we struggle for the rest of the month," Mahmoud said.

Haitham Khzaiq, 16, quit school six months ago to sell candy apples to visitors at Gaza's newly developed seaport, a major picnic venue. He works a half-day, seven days a week, and said he earns a total of 20 shekels ($5).

"We are five brothers and eight sisters. I am the oldest son and I had to work because my father is unemployed," he said. "I don't earn enough but it is better than nothing and it is better than begging people for money."

A devastating 2014 war between Palestinian militants and Israel, border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt and the destruction of cross-border smuggling tunnels by an Egyptian government at odds with Gaza's Hamas rulers have contributed to economic hardship in the territory.

AID DEPENDENCE

The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of the population is aid dependent, with unemployment rising to its current level from around 35 percent five years ago.

"Some people are living like kings and many others like us are hardly finding anything to eat," said 10-year-old Mohammed, who sells potato chips on the street and began working after his father, a construction laborer, lost his job.

A gap is evident on the Gaza beachfront, where child vendors lugging trays of tea, coffee and snacks mingle with other children using expensive cellphones to record their family picnics. Several smart hotels overlook the port and beachfront.

A Dutch-funded organization, El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation, has been running a project for three years aimed at convincing families in Gaza of the importance of returning working children to the classroom.

"We are very worried. We feel children's rights are being trampled on," said Naeem al-Ghalban, who heads the society.

Its representatives visit the homes of working children they meet on the street and invite them to guidance sessions at the organization's headquarters. Children are taken for visits to Gaza's colleges to show them what could lie ahead if they go back to school.

Ghalban said that over the past three years, some 50 working children have taken up their studies again as a result of the organization's efforts.

"We have managed to persuade some families that educating their children is far better and more valuable than the little money they make," he said. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Richard Balmforth)


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