It is cold and windy outside but Anas keeps himself busy.
The 12-year-old has to get drinks ready for people on the Gaza City seafront. In the summer, he sells fruit juices and ice cream; in the winter, tea, coffee and sahlab – a hot milk pudding.
Anas performs this task – along with his older brother – each afternoon. He attends school in the morning.
“I usually don’t do my homework until the evening,” he says. “But if I have an exam the next day, I bring my books with me to work. I study when I have ten minutes off.”
“Better than begging”
Though still a child, Anas has to earn money for his family.
He has five siblings. Their father Adham is in poor health and has long been unemployed.
“I am thankful that my two sons can do some work so that we can survive in very difficult circumstances,” Adham said. “It is hard for them. But it is better than begging for money.”
The UN monitoring group OCHA has stated that child labor is a “commonly used mechanism to alleviate poverty” in Gaza.
OCHA has cited data suggesting that more than 4,800 out of 370,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 were working full time in Gaza during 2018. A further 1,500 children in that age bracket were working while attending school.
Such data indicate that at least 2 percent of Gaza’s children work either full or part time.
The true proportion is likely to be higher. OCHA acknowledged that there are no statistics available for how many children under 10 have to work.
Children who work receive an average of $28 per month.
OCHA has found that children are working amid “an increasingly destabilized economy” in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli siege for more than 12 years.
Gaza’s unemployment level – for adults – is among the highest in the world.
Israel’s three major offensives against Gaza since December 2008 have seen numerous businesses destroyed or damaged.
“I will pay a heavy price”
Ameen is only 11 yet has already dropped out of school.
His parents are divorced. To support his mother and his four siblings, Ameen sells sweets and snacks at the entrances to schools and clinics in Maghazi refugee camp.
He has to toil especially hard on Sundays.
As many families do their weekly shopping on Sundays, he offers to help them at the local market in return for a small payment. Usually, he approaches women or elderly people and asks if he can carry their groceries.
He can be paid up to $1.50 for assisting a customer “if people are generous,” he said. Usually, he gets around half that amount.
Ameen was unhappy in school. Nonetheless, he regrets that he quit.
“We had problems with money after my parents divorced and I had to do something to help my mom,” he said. “Without a proper education, you cannot dream of a good future. I know that I will pay a heavy price for the difficult situation we found ourselves in.”
Ismail, 12, works as an assistant to a shoemaker in Nuseirat refugee camp.
He spends six hours per day at this job. Friday is the only day of the week that he takes off.
Ismail received the job on the recommendation of his uncle, who is friendly with the shoemaker. The boy’s wages come to approximately $100 per month.
“It is a tiny wage,” said Ismail. “But it helps us to buy groceries and pay for other basic needs.”
Ismail’s father is unemployed. As a result, the family has to get by on Ismail’s earnings and aid from the United Nations.
His family’s situation is shared by many others. Approximately 46 percent of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants are categorized as below the poverty line – defined as living on less than $5.50 per day.
“The situation in Gaza means that children have to think and act as older than they are,” said Ismail. “We get used to taking responsibility. I know that I have to so that my family can survive.”
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.