Syrian children of all different ages work collecting empty plastic containers in order to earn a living. They work among piles of garbage, using discarded trash in order to support their families leaving behind their studies. However, we can’t be sure that these children’s performance in their school-work comes at the expense of their so-called daily income from gathering trash.

To start, we met with a five year-old named, Aida, who loves her family, her neighborhood, and her two friends, Roudin and Ruba. She said spontaneously: “I work gathering plastic, just like my father, and aslo helps my mother making tomato paste.” Her dream is to go to school.

Meanwhile, another child, Zahr al Din said: “I have worked gathering plastic since I was little in order to financially support my family.” When we asked him about his father’s job, he said: “He used to work making false teeth, but now he is sick.” Zahr emphasized that he is not planning to desert his studies.

Roujin, a ten year-old student in the fifth grade sells each kilo of plastic for ten Syrian pounds, and makes 35 pounds daily. As for the best times to gather plastic, she says: “I prefer three in the morning when event halls would have thrown out their trash.” Roujin and a lot of her friends from the neighborhood work together gathering plastic. Roujin talked about her happiest moments, saying: “I feel happy when my dad comes home from Damascus.” Her hope is that she will complete her studies and become a lawyer.

Roujin’s nine year-old sister, Roudin, who is a student in the fourth grade agrees with her sister that the happiest moment for her is when her father comes to visit. When we asked her if she was happy with what she works, she shook her head meaning "no". Her dream is to finish her studies and that her dad would return and live with them.

According to Roudin and her friends, the outskirts of the city are the best location to collect plastic because there is an abundance of garbage and they are able to collect at any time. Roudin smiled, saying: “In addition to collecting plastic here, this is our favorite place to play.” Then she informed us that another place to gather plastic is “Shakif” neighborhood because there are a lot of event halls. Roudin continued: “At this time, the parties have ended and the workers at the event halls throw out bags of garbage in the street.”

As for Hussain, who is almost six and a student in the first grade, he loves his neighborhood, his friends, and his work. “I love my work because I can buy all the tasty food I want, from what I earn daily.” When we asked him about time for study, he said: “At night, I do homework and my sister teaches me.” Then we talked with 12 year-old Asim who said: “my daily wage is 100 Syrian pounds, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the amount of trash, and the number of children who are also looking for plastic.” Asim helps his mom with household expenses despite his commitment to his studies as his father is sick. Asim hopes to finish his studies and says: “I love school but I don’t have time to study.”

Then we met with Ahlam Kingo, a social worker, who explained to us the reasons that children work, saying: “Pervasive poverty in our community is the main reason, and motivating factor behind child labor, regardless of the social and cultural status of the family and it plays a huge role in aggravating this phenomenon.” In her opinion, family plays the main role in defining the tendencies of the child, defining the features of his character and his relationship with the outside community. As for child labor, Ahlam Kingo sees it as having “positive and negative effects,” saying: “The positive consists of the creation of new feelings about the child’s sense of self, his capability for self-reliance, to have responsibility and not to rely on others, as well as his feelings of trust in his ability to secure his needs or the needs of his family.”

However, despite these positives, Ms. Kingo believes that “the negative psychological effects [of child labor] are more severe and produce a greater burden on the child. Firstly, they prevent children from enjoying their childhood, and it cuts short their education. Work sometimes causes children to develop psychological and physical disorders, as it delays mental and physical growth, and to develop aggressive behavior and a lack of socialization, and lack of self-respect and an understanding of its value. Sometimes children face subjugation through sexual violence or sexual exploitation because they are the weakest in their places of work.” Ms. Kingo followed by saying that there are children who appear to worry about tomorrow and the future seeing it from a pessimistic point of view and are overcome by depression. She concluded by saying: “The worst negative effects resulting from the phenomenon of child workers is the spread of some dangerous habits like smoking and drug use.”

Amina Birimko, 18/1/2010, (Children Between Study and Work: Supporting the Family or Explicit Violence?)

Translation: Sheila Weaver & Elizabeth Broadwin

source in Arabic