Wiil they now be blamed for 'child unemployment'? Syrian minors now constitute majority of Jordan's working children
Ducking out of the tent while balancing a steaming teapot and mismatching glasses, Hammeyah was spending her only day off catering for her parents and seven brothers and sisters on a deserted strip of land near the northern city of Mafraq.
Barely 14, with an injured father and a weak mother, the Syrian teenager is the eldest daughter and works six days a week picking olives to help support her family, which fled Homs over a year ago.
“It is OK, I have to help them. My brothers work too, and it is not like I would do them any good by going to school,” she said, forcing a smile and tapping on her five-year-old brother’s head as he dipped his finger into a bowl of hummus.
Hammeyah is one of the 291,238 Syrian children who have found refuge in Jordan and whose living conditions are covered in a UNHCR report, “Future of Syria: refugee children in crisis”, issued on Friday.
Half of the 2.2 million people who left Syria since the war began almost three years ago are under 18 according to the report, which notes that Jordan and Lebanon host over 60 per cent of all displaced Syrian children.
Based on interviews with refugee children and international workers supporting them, the report compiles the results of four months of research across Jordan and Lebanon to assess the situation of Syrian refugee children, warning that an increasing number of children are being drawn out of school and into labour.
One in 10 Syrian refugee children in the region are working instead of going to school, according to recent UNICEF estimates.
In Jordan, over a third of all Syrian refugee children were still out of school as of September 2013, despite efforts by the government and relief agencies to facilitate their access to education through double-shift classes, outreach campaigns and financial incentives for parents to enrol their children.
“If the situation does not improve dramatically, Syria risks ending up with a generation disengaged from education and learning,” the report warned.
With its resources already stretched under the weight of 600,000 Syrian refugees, the Kingdom’s efforts to combat child labour are also undermined by the crisis, according to the Ministry of Labour.
“Syrians account for 60 to 70 per cent of all child labour in Jordan according to our estimates. They mostly work in restaurants and retail services for lower wages and longer hours than Jordanians,” Maysoon Al Remawi, a child labour inspector at the ministry, told The Jordan times last week.
Syrian children are often sent out to work due to the difficulties that adults face in getting work permits, because they have been out of school for too long or because they have to help their mother.
Five-year-old Hassan has not seen his father since he was three, and his mother spoke in a low voice when she explained that the rebel fighter had recently been jailed by government forces in Homs.
She is not alone, as over 50,000 families are headed by women due to the husband being dead, jailed or fighting, according to the report.
During the first six months of 2013, the UN Refugee Agency also registered over 1,300 unaccompanied or separated children in Jordan.
Highlighting the psychological trauma faced by Syrian children, some of whom have closely experienced death, the report noted that over 300 children had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorders in the Zaatari camp over the past year.
The report also stressed the need to provide support to children beyond camp limits, with some 80 per cent of all Syrian refugees living among host communities, according to recent UNHCR figures.
With little hope that she will return to her hometown of Homs any time soon, Hammeyah reflected on her situation with a resilience and maturity far beyond her years.
“When I work, I am less of a burden to my family; I am not another mouth to feed.”
• Half of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees are under 18
• 291,238 Syrian refugee children reside in Jordan, 385,007 in Lebanon
• A third of the 3,700 Syrian children living without one or both parents are in Jordan
• Over 100,000 Syrian children of school-age were out of school at the beginning of this academic year in Jordan
• The total amount of funds spent in support of refugees in the region amounts to $850 million