Batoul (right) and Mousab volunteered their time after school to hear the stories of child laborers in their communities.
Editor’s note: This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian refugee crisis, which has had and continues to have ripple effects throughout the region. The influx of refugees into neighboring Jordan, for example, has led to economic distress in the country; as a result, both Syrian refugee and Jordanian families have put their children to work. Labor Department programs adopt a holistic approach to promote sustainable efforts that address child labor’s underlying causes, transforming the lives of vulnerable families and children.
When Batoul and Mousab, ages 14 and 15, first hit the streets of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Amman, Jordan, to interview working children, they had to overcome some nerves.
“I was worried that I would not have enough courage to speak to the children or face their employers, but we had to talk to them and hear their stories,” said Batoul. “We met children who were doing odd jobs in the streets. Some children told us that they would get beaten, shouted at and threatened if they didn't do the work properly.”
As part of a program established in partnership with the International Labor Organization and the Jordanian government, youth advocates like Batoul and Mousab volunteered their time after school to interview over 3,000 of their peers engaged in child labor. The interview project, part of a broader program funded by the department, aimed to identify causes and potential solutions to help Jordan tackle a child labor problem made more dire by the recent influx of thousands of Syrian refugees.
The conversations revealed that many children felt trapped by extreme poverty, lack of family support for education, or violence and discrimination in school.
“The problem is that most of the children we met said they are forced to work to help their families financially,” said Mousab. “We tried telling them to return to school, but most of them said they've been out of school for too long to return.”
A child-centered approach has not only helped the project gather critical information, but has empowered young citizens like Batoul and Mousab to become passionate advocates for change in their own communities.
“We came up with the questions for the survey ourselves and we conducted the interviews ourselves. It was based on what we believed was important information,” said Batoul. She continued, “Parents, politicians and decision-makers have a huge responsibility in ensuring that children receive an education and that they enjoy their childhood without having to worry about adult responsibilities.”
As part of the project, the ILO has helped the Jordanian government implement its National Plan to Combat Child Labor by establishing strong child labor enforcement units at the Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs; forming local coordination mechanisms to ensure that services and legal protections now reach children everywhere in Jordan; and tailoring services and protections to meet the needs of Jordan’s most vulnerable children, including Syrian refugee children. The project worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to include Syrian children in a National Child Labor Survey, which promises to yield critical new insights into the nature and prevalence of child labor in Jordan that will inform efforts to combat it.
The ILO is now working with municipal authorities in Amman on the next phase of the campaign, which will raise awareness for schoolchildren in areas where child labor and dropping out of school are more common, and train the Children’s Municipal Council to advocate with parliamentarians to take action on child labor.
“We need to find solutions,” said Mousab. “We want to tell them: let us, the children, explain to you what needs to be done.”
Insaf Nizam is the ILO’s chief technical adviser of our child labor project in Jordan.