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Conflict and mass displacement increase child labour in the MENA region – new report

Conflict and crisis in the Middle East and North Africa has led to an increase in child labour across the region, including in children’s involvement in armed conflict and other illicit activities, a new report finds.

©FAO/ Lebanon -- The worst forms of child labour include the kinds of hazardous work found in the agriculture sector, in which most children in the Arab region work in both paid and unpaid labour.

20 March 2019, Cairo - A new multi-organizational report finds that conflict and war over the past decade has coincided with an increase in child labour among refugee children, the internally displaced and other populations across the region.

Commissioned by the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Arab Council for Childhood Development (ACCD), the "Child Labour in the Arab Region: a Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis" report is the first to provide an overview of the profile and trends of child labour in the League's 22 member states. "Over the past ten years, during which the region has witnessed high levels of armed conflict resulting in the mass displacement of populations – both within and between countries – the situation has certainly worsened," the report states.

A dearth of systematically and comprehensively-collected regional data from previous years means that exact figures on the recent rise of child labour among different population groups are difficult to assess, explained Frank Hagemann, Deputy Regional Director for Arab States from the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO is the lead UN agency that oversaw production of the study, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

"Yet the report makes clear that the effects of recent economic shocks, political turmoil, conflict and war have worsened pre-existing levels of child labour, and have also reversed much of the progress Arab countries made in combatting child labour through policy development and practical measures," Hagemann said. "As is the case across the globe, conflict has hit women and children disproportionately hard in the region. In consequence, child labour has emerged as perhaps the most critical child-protection issue in the region, requiring our urgent attention and action," Hagemann said.

Worst forms of child labour

The study reports that children in parts of the Arab region "have been increasingly drawn into the worst forms of child labour and face serious and worrying exploitation, abuse and violation of their rights."
"Refugee and displaced children work in different sectors of activity, with a notable rise in street work, bonded labour, early marriages, and commercial sexual exploitation. Child labour among refugee and displaced children is mainly a coping mechanism for their families who face extreme poverty or where adults are unemployed," the study states.

The case of hazardous work in agriculture

"The worst forms of child labour include the kinds of hazardous work found in the agriculture sector, in which most children in the Arab region work in both paid and unpaid labour," said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa. "Such labour takes place mostly in rural areas, and represents a cheap workforce for small-scale farming – mostly non-mechanized labour-intensive methods of production involving high risks."

Conflicts and mass displacement had a toll on agriculture and food security. Building resilient rural livelihoods is essential to child labour reduction in this sector, which generally involve high level of work related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases.

"Agriculture accounts for more than half of children in employment in countries such as Yemen, Sudan and Egypt. The predominance of agriculture calls for special attention since this sector is characterized by early entry into work compared to other sectors," Ould Ahmed added.

Mass displacement and armed conflict

The worst forms of child labour are also found in services and industry, and includes the multiple dangers associated with working on the streets.

They also include direct and indirect involvement in armed conflict and in situations associated with armed conflict.

The study reports that over half of Arab countries are currently affected by conflicts or inflows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). These include Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Yemen.

The study reports a rise in the recruitment and use of children by armed groups, both among local and refugee populations, especially in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

"The majority of recruited children are generally boys. However, there is an emerging tendency to recruit more girls and children below the age of 15. Hundreds of children across the Arab region are also held in detention and even tortured on grounds of being involved in armed groups," the report states.

Children in parts of the region are being forced into new types of activities relating to situations of armed conflict, such as smuggling goods across the border or between fighting zones, collecting oil waste, performing funerary work (collecting body parts for burial), as well as fetching water or collecting food from fields and landfills littered with explosive remnants of war, the report adds.

Children's involvement in employment varies substantially across the Arab region, with Sudan and Yemen showing the highest rates of child employment (19.2 per cent and 34.8 per cent respectively.)
Child employment rates are higher among boys. The report cautions, however, "surveys might fail to capture hidden forms of child labour among girls, such as domestic work and unpaid household services, which merit further research and enquiry." Unpaid work is also higher amongst the younger age group, and in rural areas.

Endorsement and recommendations

The report was presented to LAS member states, who had previously endorsed the report, at the League's headquarters in Cairo on 7 March. LAS commissioned the report to provide an understanding of the main trends of child employment as a first step towards designing better-targeted policies and interventions to address the problem of child labour. The commission was based on a recommendation of the 20th Session of the Arab Childhood Committee (ACC) of November 2014.

The report stresses, "There is an urgent and immediate need to safeguard children in the Arab region, whether their serious exploitation is a result of pure economic issues or in combination with conflict and displacement. Arab countries need to realize that child labour poses immediate and future challenges not only to the children themselves, but also to their nations and communities, as well as the broader economy."
"It is now urgent to address both the root causes and repercussions of child labour, and to ultimately eliminate it, especially in its worst forms," the report states.

The study concludes with recommendations to the 22 LAS member states to improve their governance frameworks, especially by aligning national legislation with international legal standards, and ensuring the effective enforcement of child labour laws and regulations.

It recommends, secondly, protecting children from economic and social vulnerability by improving the socio-economic circumstances of families so that they do not resort to child labour to generate income for households where adults suffer from poverty and unemployment. Achieving this requires improved labour market policies, social protection, access to basic services including education, and awareness-raising programmes.

The study recommends, thirdly, protecting children from the impact of armed conflict through humanitarian programmes and aid for refugees and the displaced, protecting children from recruitment and use in armed conflict, and rehabilitating and reintegrating children used in armed conflicts.

 


20/03/2019

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