Child labour on the rise among Jordan’s most vulnerable

On the outskirts of Russeifa, children sort through mounds of garbage in hope of finding something salvable: an aluminium bottle cap, a glass bottle, a cardboard box. Some children come to work in the landfill from the nearby village, others come from far, many from the kingdom’s refugee camps.

The kids spend days, up to weeks, living among the rubbish, eating expired food, and breathing the fumes of burning plastic.

Only a short drive from the landfill is a scrapyard, which spans almost 3km (1.2 miles). Here, children collect scrap metal, to later sell for a few Jordanian dinars. Piles of 1960-era cars hide what happens in the scrapyard from authorities’ sight, leaving the children susceptible to gang membership and violence.

In these locations, children work in hazardous conditions with dangerous machinery, heavy loads, long hours, and unhealthy living conditions. The National Child Labor Survey in 2016, Jordan’s most recent statistics on child labour, found almost 76,000 children were engaged in economic activity, 60 percent of whom work in risky environments.

However, multiple sources estimate in recent years, this number has more than doubled, especially given the pandemic-related economic hardships.

UNICEF’s Chief Child Protection Officer in Jordan Mariyampillai Mariyaselvam also told Al Jazeera that, “It is obvious from observations in our day-to-day work that child labour has increased in the post-COVID situation”.

Ahmad Awwad, the director of the Jordan Labor Watch, said, “By direct observations of the streets, now the number of child labourers has increased,” adding based on his estimations there are close to 150,000 child labourers in Jordan.

“The largest reason for child labour is the living conditions of families,” said Awwad. “If the living conditions worsen, children will leave school and integrate into the labour market at an early age.”

Jordan’s youth unemployment rate has reached a staggering 53.7 percent and the general unemployment rate is now at an unprecedented 24.8 percent, according to the Department of Statistics (DoS) website. The kingdom’s population has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, which has pressured the country’s social support systems and contributed to the growing, unregulated informal sector.

“The living conditions of most Jordanians now are deteriorating,” said Awwad.

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