KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - One summer night while I was commuting back home, a young kid carrying a plastic bag got into the bus. The kid was stumbling from his heavy load and was about to fall down. I was surprised to see such a small child all by himself in this late hour of the night. I reached for his hand and made him sit by my side. I asked him what he was doing at this late hour. “I sell lemons. I am big. I am ten years old!” he replied, and started to sift through the heavy bag that almost pulled him down. He fetched a plastic pistol and asked: “Which is better, the pistol or this watch?”
“Whose pistol is this?” I asked. “It is for Hammodi, the good boy who does not wonder about in the hospital wards!” he replied.
“Where do you live?” I asked in wonder.
He said he accompanies his sick mother in Khartoum Hospital, after she was relegated from a hospital in Gedaref in the East, five months ago. He and his four-year old brother Hammodi were staying with their mother in the hospital. Their father was dead and they had nobody to resort to in Khartoum, so they stayed in hospital. He and his younger brother sleep on the grass outside the ward, but mosquitoes give them hard nights. He quits the place early in the morning to go to the market, not before buying tea and leaving behind breakfast cost for his mother and brother with “Aunt Nafeesa”, a hospital worker. Lunch is brought by Hajja Maymoona who they knew while she was accompanying her sick sister in the same hospital ward. Hajja Maymoona lives in the Sahafa Neighborhood and she used to save money for him and also sell out lemons he could not market the day before.” After my mother is discharged from hospital we will rent a room to live in,” he said.
“Don’t you go to school,” I asked.
“No! I work, but when Hammoodi grows big, I will take him to school,” he replied firmly.
The young boy had set me in wonder. Despite his weak voice, he is confident and resolved.
I was very moved and had a long pause. I felt I was very little and that the bus was so small to accommodate this giant.
The bus suddenly drew to a halt, and before I could recollect myself, the little boy slid by and said: “This is Hajja Maymoona’s bus stop.” He hurried down, carrying his heavy bag and waving his little hand to me.
This young kid does not go to school, nor even does he think about it. He is obsessed with things far bigger than getting educated. He is not alone in this. The real picture before us is that there are children at school age who do not go to school: They work. They do not linger about in the streets. They work hard as if they are in a race against time. Is that because they are poor? Is it poverty and the absence of someone to support them that drives these youngsters into the labor market? Don’t we have laws that ban or regulate the work of children which really prevents them from getting education that can change their future for the better? Where is the right of these children to education in a country that adopts free and compulsory schooling?
Speaking to Sudanow Magazine, Yasir Saleem, an expert in child affairs, said child labor is indeed a complicated problem. It is one of the most outstanding of children problems that plague societies, not only in our developing countries, but also in developed countries. “Child labor in our country converges with all the other problems: The harsh living conditions, the problems related to poverty, the low family income, the war problems, the conflicts and the results they engender like broken families and displacement to places lacking in decent means of living. The first victim is the child who loses all his rights in education, health care and his right to lead a peaceful and settled life with his own family. Thus his life is turned into a hell and he starts to look for work, a matter that exposes him to all sorts of exploitation and humiliation.
There are communities and tribes that permit child labor, said Saleem. Child labor is socially accepted in these communities, a matter that reduced demand for education.
Saleem said child labor had won world attention, whereby the World Labor Organization in 2002 sanctioned June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labor and urged governments, businesses, workers’ unions and the civil society to spotlight the ordeal of working kids and find ways for helping them. Many international and regional agreements have also banned child labor as an impediment to complete bodily, psychological and mental growth of children, a matter that reflects negatively on their wellbeing.
Saleem asserted that any solutions for this problem should be based on child rights in order to achieve a real change. He said the International Labor Law stipulates a minimum age for work. That is the age when the child finishes his compulsory education, i.e no less than 15 years. The Law has also banned child labor below 18 years in occupations that put the child in harm’s way. At the national level, the Child Law for 2010 was far more progressive than the other Sudanese laws and legislations. It has banned child labor below 14 years of age and stipulated free and compulsory primary education for children. That means the right to labor was tied to the right to primary education. Children between 14-18 years are allowed to work under certain conditions: The employer has to conduct a medical checkup of the child before he is recruited and the child’s daily working hours should not exceed 7 hours, including a period for rest. The law has also stipulated that a child should not work for more than 4 consecutive hours, should not be made to do overtime work or work during holidays, or from 6 P.M to 8 A.M, a day. The employer is obliged to socially ensure the child and provide him with health care. Article 86 D of the Law has stipulated a prison term no less than one month and a fine, or both punishments, for violating Article 36 of the Law that bans the employment of children below 14 years.
On the effectiveness of the application of labor laws and legislations, Altayeb Hassan Eisa, Director of Public Relations at the Labor Ministry says that the Ministry operates along a tripartite partnership with the Businessmen Association and the workers unions “in order to reach a convincing and binding formula.”
“The application of labor legislations is within the responsibility of the Ministry. But the unorganized economy, where child labor is rife, is a worry to all the bodies active in the childhood domain. That is because it is easy for the child to enter this economy. Moreover, there are no statistics that can be referred to,” he said.
Eisa said inspection of workplaces for violations is not meant to criminalize employers, but seeks to draw attention to the aspired objectives of these legislations, He added that tackling the labor issue would not be done by legislations, but by finding solutions for the problems that push the children into the labor market. There is need for coordination among all concerned bodies, both official and voluntary, he said.
But regardless of all these laws and legislations, there is a wide and worrying spread of child labor. Child labor is a disrespect of the law. Work deprives children from their basic civil rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
According to education experts, free and good education is a good guarantor against child labor. It has become clear that countries where compulsory and free primary education is applied had seen an actual drop in child labor.
The experts also warn that though education is free, there is no punishment for institutes of learning that collect fees from the pupils. In fact children are dismissed from classes when they fail to pay the fees.
In the light of the meager budgets allocated for education and in the light of the absence of a real application of the policy for free education at the primary level, there is need to tap other options.
Development Consultant at the National Council For Child Welfare, Dr. Ghada Alhadary says the world has now turned to the application of the principle of ‘child friendly budgets’ where the government takes the child interest as a focal point of its economic and social policy and avails enough resources to boost policies geared towards the benefits of children in order to take them out of the poverty circle and make sure they get free education.
Added Dr. Ghada: The major causes of school dropouts is poor feeding that starts during pregnancy. Poor feeding affects child intelligence and his ability to understand. This leads to repeated failures and eventually leads the child to drop out from the school.
Dr. Ghada said Sudan is about to conduct a study on the effect of poor feeding on the GDP. The study will be conducted in collaboration with the Child Welfare Council and other related bodies. “If children are made to pay this high cost now, their nations are going to pay a high price, because sacrificing these children causes the country to lose its ability for development and progress” she said.
It is very intriguing to see municipality roundup campaigns against child street vendors who take to their heels as if they had committed a felony, whereas it is the municipality that broke the law by first denying the children their rights to education and decent living.
Though there is no specific statistics explaining the number of working children in Sudan, some concerned bodies said they constitute 25-33% of the total number of children under 14. However, there is no argument that work denies children their basic rights in education and play. It hampers their rightful growth when they mix with adults at workplaces.
In the light of this situation, what are the solutions and punitive measures that could be taken to face this phenomenon?
Amid this gloom, there appeared a bright experiment, though still too young: Khartoum North Commissioner Hassan Mohamed Idris has managed to return over 2147 children working in his municipality’s markets, gardens and along river banks to the school seats via what he called: “The Nile Dream.”
Commissioner Idris’s initiative came under the motto: “Education First” and was backed by organizations active in the children domain, foremost the UNICEF.
According to Khartoum North Adult Education Director Muna Mohamed Babiker the initiative was meant to educate children driving hand trolleys in Shambat Central Market for Vegetables and Fruits. The move began in 2016 and was welcomed by the targeted children, their families and the local community. Some 21 education centers now enroll trolley children and farm and brick factory hands in addition to girls working as home servants, in market places and their mothers.
Muna said all centers, stationed inside the working places, are well equipped. The centers provide the kids with school bags, books, pens and pencils, in addition to “meals for education.”
Muna added that the curriculum caters for three child categories: Children from 7-9 years, children from 10-14 and in the third phase both first and second categories are brought together to prepare them to move to Grade 8 and sit for the primary school certificate.
She said 976 learners had sat for the primary school certificate, scoring a success result of 71%. Forty eight learners had scored 200-265 marks out of a total of 280 marks and were honored by the Commissioner. Registration continues in marketplaces and markets for more intakes. Inside the classrooms of Khartoum North’s Market Education Center, Sudanow met some learners: It was very clear that they were interested in learning, in fact happy about what they are doing. Most of the learners hail from poor families.
Ahmed Obaid (17), from Northern Kordofan, is one of the outstanding students. He looks after his family, composed of his mother and five brothers and sisters, following the death of his father. He said he used to clean legumes for 30 pounds a bag, with an average daily earning of 100-200 pounds, according to the availability of work. But his conditions improved when he was included in the project for owning hand driven trolleys. He now works, learns and sends money to his mother and her children back in the village.
Mohamed Badawi (15) hails from the Zareeba village. He studies within the first category. He said he came to Khartoum, with his brother and his cousins three years ago. He is determined to continue with his education up to the university.
Abdelbagi Alrayyah (11) suffers from an exceptionally low voice, though he does not suffer from any disease. He lives with his family in Khartoum North’s Danagla Neighborhood .They work as guards in a house under construction. The dire situation of his family had deprived Abdelbagi from going on with his education. Previously his father used to work as a well digger. That occupation had affected his hearing. By the opening of the Center, Abdelbagi’s father rushed to enroll him and is keen that his son keeps with learning. According to a Center teacher, Abdelbagi isolates himself from his peers, never talks and when he talks he is not heard well because of his low voice. The teacher attributes Abdelnagi’s seclusion to his long stay without schooling. He used to see his peers in the neighborhood to and back from school without any hope to do so himself. That had prevented his integration in the society. But according to this teacher, he has started to improve and integrate.
Abdelbagi reminds me of the lemon vendor I met on the bus. They are very much alike in shape, but Abdelbagi makes you feel his weakness and humbleness. While the lemon trader is brave and struggles to keep living. Both represent the ordeal of many others whom poverty and depravation had shattered their childhood dream of going to school. But the Center has illuminated this category’s coming times. Many more children now wait for whoever can accept the challenge and propagate the Center’s experiment.
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