Israeli closures spur phenomenon of Palestinian “one-shekel-kids”

A one shekel kid is an under-age worker selling nic-nacs, sweets, cakes or cheap plastic items for a shekel a piece. DCI took a small sample of these children this week for International Child Labour Day on June 12.

DCI Palestine notes that the deteriorating economic situation in the Palestinian territories due to Israeli closures and curfews is having a significant impact on children, both in terms of a falling standard of living and loss of opportunities and the rising incidence of child labour to supplement meager family income.

The last Palestinian Bureau of Statistics survey on the issue calculated the incidence of child labour at 3.5% in 2001 , but since this time, a further drop in family income has put 60% of Palestinians below a poverty line of $2 a day , pushing more and more children out onto the street, after school, in the holidays and as an alternative to education.

Israeli checkpoints, and the permanent queues of people trying to get through the barriers, make a natural gathering point for under-age workers. There are regularly 10-15 children at Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, while in the centre of Ramallah, our researchers saw over 20 children in a two hour period.

Most of these children are working to support their families (all 10 in the DCI sample) financially and to pay for school fees and basic needs. The average working day for children is 9.45 hours, with some working as long as 12 hours a day. Average earnings are 20-30 shekels a day ($1= NIS4.44), although one child earns only 5 shekels. The youngest worker was just 6 years old, selling Quranic excerpts for 1 shekel a page at Qalandiya checkpoint.

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    DCI is concerned about the long hours and the risk of exploitation of these children who often work unaccompanied in hostile and tense environments. Checkpoints in particular are regularly scenes of confrontations between soldiers and civilians, sometimes resulting in shootings and gas attacks. Muhammad (1) has suffered this experience already. In total 5 of 9 of the children said that they had been attacked while working, whether by other children, the Israeli army or even the Palestinian police.

    Here are the stories of just 3 of the children interviewed by DCI:

    Case 1:

    Abed (not his real name) is a 12 year old boy from Sumu’a, a village in the Hebron district. He is spending his summer holidays at his brother’s house in Ramallah. It is the first time that he has been far from his home and family, but he only goes home every two or three weeks. Abed is working 9 hours a day in the streets of Ramallah selling plastic wallets for 1 shekel each. He sells about 25 of these a day. 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 for the new year. Two days ago, while Abed was shouting to get attention from the crowd the Palestinian police saw him, walked up to him and started beating him to ‘make him silent’. Fortunately, Abed’s brother and cousin were not far away and came to protect him. However, Abed was badly beaten and two days later his body still hurts. Abed is scared to be alone in the streets, but he does not have a choice.

    Case 2:

    Hassan is sad. He has been working all day since the morning, he is tired and wants to go play with his friends. However, he is selling goods at Qalandiya checkpoint. His father used to have a decent income but he can no longer go through the checkpoint to work in Israel, so he has set up a street stall where Mohammed helps out after school and in the holidays. Qalandiya is a dangerous area and Hassan has already been involved in an incident when Israeli soldiers who then threw teargas at the crowd. Fortunately Hassan was not wounded, but the situation around the checkpoint is always tense and the weather is very hot. Hassan would much prefer to go and play with his friends.

    Case 3:

    Fourteen year-old Saleh lives in a refugee camp just outside Ramallah. He is spending his summer holidays as a ‘street waiter’ selling drinks and juices to the market sellers. He earns 20 NIS a day which he gives to his family, keeping 5 NIS to himself to buy some little things. This is the first time that he has been officially employed. The last three years he has been selling things on the streets by himself, but he thinks he is too old for that now. He is working with three other minors all selling juices and drinks. Saleh works 8 hours a day for 7 days a week. He does not have time to see his friends and he feels pretty tired. However, he is happy that he can help out his family in this difficult situation.

    For more information:

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