In Yemen, children sacrifice school to survive

Nearly half a million children have dropped out of school since the beginning of the war and many have been forced to work for less than a dollar a day
Like any 12-year-old boy, Mohammed Ghlaib gets up in the morning and gets ready for school. But his day starts much earlier. And instead of having lunch when he leaves home, Mohammed catches a bucket full of Yemeni sweets called fawfal. They’re not for him.
Mohammed lives with seven members of his family in Thobhan, 70 km from the town of Ta’izz. Although several humanitarian organizations operate in Ta’izz, none help Mohammed and his family. “I want to be in class, but it’s hard because I have to sell my candy before noon,” he told Middle East Eye. “If I am diligent, my family will not have enough money to buy food. »

Mohammed’s father, Tawfeeq, is unemployed. To earn a living, he decided to sell boiled potato sandwiches with Mohammed and another of his sons at the same school. Mohammed was in school there, but in recent years, his family’s problems to survive have worried him. So he interrupted his schooling to help.

“I am still struggling to finish school and attend some courses. So if my father finds a job, I can go back to school,” explains the young boy.

Mohammed has been selling fawfal and sometimes other foods in the school for the past two years, and his classmates have encouraged him by buying his sweets. “My friends buy me sweets every day and I am happy because I usually sell all the fawfal. But in reality, I envy my friends who can go to school and don’t work like me,” he says.

Mohammed confides that he earns about 500 Yemeni riyals a day, less than two euros, about as much as his father and brother who sell sandwiches.

Tawfeeq told MEE: “I don’t want to see my children working in the school where they are supposed to learn science, but since we were really in need, I was forced to ask them to work. “Everyone in our family works and if one of us doesn’t work, we won’t have anything to eat,” he adds. Tawfeeq says his wife and daughters make fawfal, sandwiches and juice, and his sons sell them at school with their father.

Less than two euros per day
Walid Abdullah Ahmed, also 12, has eight brothers and sisters. They live with their families in the al-Fajr school, south of Ta’izz, half of which has been transformed into a camp for Yemenis displaced by the war. Walid went to school in the town of Ta’izz, but when the fighting arrived in his neighbourhood, his family took refuge at al-Fajr school and since then he has continued to study in the half still used for the intended purpose.
Last year, Walid’s father, Abdullah, had a spinal cord infection and could no longer work as a worker in the market. Walid had to stop his studies and now works in a small store at the school. “Helping my family get food is more important than studying. I can’t study if my siblings are hungry and my father doesn’t have any medication,” he explains to MEE.

Three of Walid’s brothers also work to help the family and hold various jobs in the market, cleaning cars and carrying goods. Like Mohammed, Walid earns less than a dollar a day. It’s better than nothing, he says. “All of us[brothers and sisters] earn 1,500 riyals[5.20 euros] a day, which is enough for the family’s expenses. »

Abdullah hopes to see his children return to school. But he is not optimistic, because food is their priority. “I am a sick man and I can’t carry anything because of my spine. So I am pessimistic about my children’s future,” he says. “I think my children will suffer in the future like me because they have not received an adequate education. “Abdullah is illiterate and has not been able to find work as a worker in the markets.

“Employers exploit children”
Since the escalation of the war in Yemen by the Saudi coalition in 2015, nearly half a million children have dropped out of school, according to UNICEF. This brings the total number of out-of-school children to two million.

According to UNICEF, the conflict and economic disaster in Yemen has exhausted the financial resources of most families, leading to an increase in the number of child marriages and child labour.

The hijacking of the ai
The UN estimates that 22 million Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance and the war has pushed up to 14 million people to the brink of starvation.

The International Labour Organization reported in 2013 that more than 1.3 million children in Yemen were working, including 469,000 in the 5-11 age group.

According to Jamal al-Shami, founder of Democracy School, a local NGO based in Sana’a, the capital, the number of working children has doubled in the last three years of the war, but there is no new precise figure.

“During the war, more and more children became the breadwinners in those where parents lost their jobs, and most working children are in rural areas,” says Shami for MEE.

“Employers exploit children because they accept any amount of money for their work and accept any kind of forced labour, but adults need more money and do not accept any work. »

According to him, children work in several types of jobs, such as selling items in markets, working in factories, in construction or as carriers. Most of them work in agriculture in rural areas. “You can find working children anywhere, and even in battles, you can see them fighting for money,” says Shami. “Children are the weakest victims of this war. »

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