Child Labour and Street Child Phenomenon: A...
In today’s world the situation of child labourers and street children has preoccupied the minds of many human rights activists and social issues experts. Many children work and live on the streets in unsuitable conditions in busy streets, in the cold and heat and pollution, they are human beings and helping them is crucial and necessary as a human rights challenge. In this article we’ll have a look at the child labour and street child phenomenon, and in an interview, we will discuss the role of NGOs in reducing their negative aspects.
Child Labour and Street Children
This phenomenon is not exclusive to a particular country, but we see this problem practically across the whole world. Children who undertake arduous work that they are incapable of doing or dangerous jobs, due to economic and financial needs, with the aim of producing goods or services to receive wages, are considered as child labourers.
Overall, children who have to work on the streets for their survival in big cities, are called street children. The term is usually associated with children who both work and sleep on the streets.
For the first time children were used in Middle Ages in weaving workshops and farm work, which was vital for families economy. Therefore initially child labour was a term which meant the employment of children in factories, and before the industrial revolution children were also lived and put to work on farms. In the 16th Century too, a high percentage of children were working as house servants. Those that worked in homes, lived in a hut that was adjacent to the main house. Most of them did not get any wages, and working for a hot meal and somewhere to sleep was enough for them.
But today, this term is given to children who do some work, particularly jobs that prevent them from their education or are bad for their health. Each year a percentage of children leave school for various reasons and take on jobs, such as shoe shining, cleaning car windscreens, selling fortune telling cards and other stuff on traffic junctions, markets, metro stations and busy places. They spend long hours under the threat of social risks (they might get sexually exploited or fall trap to body organ trafficking gangs).
Overall, child labourers split into two categories: children that live in very poor families and have to help their family. They work in production or services part time or full time to support their family. These children have families and have a place to live and sleep and only go out on the streets for work.
Another group are children who either don’t have families and or their families are drug addicts or suffering from other sort of crises. These children go on the streets to live and work.
In short, as stated above there are many reasons behind children coming into the streets to work or beg or live. For example the need for income - there are child labourers in poor and low income families - parents’ divorce, substance and alcohol abuse by the parents, refusing child custody, or children that are snatched and get drawn into criminal gangs.
Overall, why children end up in the streets must be searched in social and family factors, which we will briefly review and then present solutions to these problems.
Important factors in the appearance of child labour and street children and methods to solve these problems
The child labour phenomenon and the rise in the number of street children, have various infrastructural reasons among which, economic poverty can be pointed out as one of the most important factors not only in Iran but all over the world. These children are forced to work for their family’s food, whereas according to the Labour Act, employees are not allowed to employ them, but they prefer to use children because they are cheap workers and they are not members of workers’ unions.
In today’s societies, factors such as insufficient economic growth, cultural poverty, lack of economic balance and class differences, unfair distribution of income in society, mass migration of peasants to cities, spread of poverty and rise in the cost of living are all some of the factors that brings children into the streets for work.
We can put the factors in two groups of social and family factors:
1 – Poverty and unfair distribution of wealth and rise in inflation: the countries that have the lowest global standards of human poverty, survival abilities, education and standard of living indicators, have the highest number of street children. Rise in homelessness in industrial countries also indicate poverty and inequality in accessing existing opportunities of society.
2 – Wars or internal unrest, which are followed by economic and social crises: wars cause the losing of families and displacement. Such as the war in Afghanistan which resulted in the displacement of a large number of the population who sought refuge in neighbouring countries and were forced to work and live on the streets, especially if they entered the countries illegally. Also war and violence in Syria and Iraq have increased the number of child labrourers and street children.
3 – Migration is another reasons why children go to work in the streets: migrating from villages to big towns and cities and or international migrations.
4 – Lack of a strong social security organization to cover poor families so that children are not forced into the streets for work.
Causes such as the economic poverty of the family, large families, illiteracy or poor literacy of the family, death or separation of parents, their remarriage and extramarital affairs, parents’ sickness or disability, parents addictions, having criminals family, continued fights and arguments of the parents with each other, child abuse (sexual, physical and mental), being strict with the children, and throwing them out into the streets, are some of the main reasons that result in children going to work in the streets. In total most of the street children are from dysfunctional families
Below we shall present methods to improve the child labour and street children situation, although the elimination of this problem is very difficult, but some measures can be taken to improve the situation to an extent and reduce the threats:
1 – Conducting studies on how these phenomena appear and doing the necessary research in this regard.
2 – Adoption of preventive measures.
3 – Setting up places for housing the street children, and rescuing them from criminal gangs.
4 – Provision of offering free counselling services to these children and their families.
5 – Identification of impoverished and vulnerable families and provision of financial assistance and creation of the opportunity for a fully free education for impoverished children.
6 – Increasing and raising awareness levels of children to prevent them from being exploited.
7 – Observation of minimum UN international standards regarding children and protection of their rights based on UNICEF, ILO and Child’s Rights Committee standards.
8 – Special measures and assistance of international organisations in crisis stricken regions such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Domestic Iranian laws on child labour and street children and Iran’s membership in international conventions and bodies
The legislator has not specifically made reference to the protection of the child and family in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and there are no clear regulations in this regard in the Constitution. But there are articles that support the formation of the family and give importance to the family as one of the main pillars of society. There are also articles that emphasise on the creation of jobs, and equal opportunities and social security for all and free education for children. These articles are:
Article 10: Since the family is the fundamental unit of the Islamic society, all laws, regulations, and pertinent programmes must tend to facilitate the formation of a family, and to safeguard its sanctity and the stability of family relations on the basis of the law and the ethics of Islam.
Article 28: Everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests, and does not infringe the rights of others. The government has the duty to provide every citizen with the opportunity to work, and to create equal conditions for all, with due consideration to the need of society for different kinds of professions.
Article 29: It is accepted as a universal right that every one should benefit from social security in case of retirement, unemployment, old age, disability, absence of a guardian, and receive help and support while being stranded, having accidents, needing health services, medical care and treatment, provided through Insurance or other means. The government must provide the foregoing services and financial support for every individual citizen by drawing, in accordance with the law, on the national revenues and funds obtained through public contributions.
Article 30: The government must provide all citizens with free-education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.
Other laws that in some sections specifically deal with child labourers exist in the Labour Act of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where some measures have been foreseen, however despite the passage of years from the ratification of the Labour Act and regulations prohibiting child and juvenile labour, we see that these laws have not affected child labour very much, and are used in many jobs such as bakeries, ironmongers and carpet weaving in Iran.
It must be reminded that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child on 6 October 1991, and in February 1995 on the basis of an Act passed by the Islamic Parliament of Iran adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is also worthy of mention that UNICEF in Iran is working on the basis of a mutual agreement with the Iranian government. This cooperation becomes operational through a five year cooperation programme. The current five year programme began in 2012 and shall end in 2016. This country programme has been designed with a view based on assurance of helping all children benefit from universal services, reduction of poverty and creation of opportunities for juveniles and youths.
As well as the government and governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations have also started working in Iran.
NGOs, Child Labour and Street Children
Today, in most countries, various groups and organizations have been set up and are active for the improvement of living conditions and prevention of physical and mental abuse of children and the realisation of their rights.
In Iran too there are various groups and organizations that pay particular attention towards child labour and street children issues.
Also some child rights NGOs are active in Iran. The Imam Ali Student Aid Society is one of these organizations which was founded in 2000 and in 2005 registered as an NGO.
To get better introduced to the activities of this organization, a meeting was set up with its supervisors, and the following is a narrative of its activities:
This Institute is a social organisation in Iran, it sees the human society as an interconnected whole and that we human beings are all have like the organs of a single body is what the Institute has deeply understood.
Its most important objective is to support abandoned women and children. The NGO is mostly concerned with women and children and reduction of social damages. The Imam Ali Student Aid Society successfully acquired consultative status from ECOSOC in 2010.
Now in view of the important mission of Imam Ali Institute for reaching a world set on the base of justice and peace and a special look at vulnerable people, particularly children, it is very apt to narrate the interview we had with the director and the team of the Institute:
1 –Considering that your most important objective is the protection of abandoned women and children, and there is a need for assistance, what activities do you do to this aim?
We conduct studies, research and present solutions for social problems of vulnerable groups which include, juvenile criminals, runaway children, child labourers and street children, deprived and impoverished families, women heads of household and problems that children with incurable diseases and their families face for getting higher standards of living.
Also the promotion of thoughts and practices of Imam Ali, the divine saints who love the human beings and implementation of symbolic and inclusive projects in national and religious ceremonies throughout the country and other countries.
Providing assistance to the material and moral needy and their empowerment.
Overall, we endeavour towards the promotion of charity and benevolence in an inclusive way.
2 – Please tell us who your Institute helps to promote and improve human rights?
One of our operational phases (individual social work): the Institute tries to provide the basic living conditions for more than 3000 children under its care and their families.
Another phase of social work: due to having a continued presence in troublesome regions across the country, the Institute analyses the root causes of social problems, and by conducting various programmes and projects, the Institute brings it to the attention of the public.
3 – Your office environment is very pleasant and likable. But the question that comes to my mind is where do you keep the children? How do you create jobs for them?
Child labourers are housed in aid provision centres of the Institute which are called Iranian Homes, in various districts. They receive necessary training and we try to gradually take the children out of the forced labour cycle. This is done in two ways: they are given education funding instead of work, and providing children with opportunity to earn money by making art and crafts ideas to children instead of working on the streets. For example in the Iranian Home of the Institute in the Darvazeh Ghar neighbourhood, children spend three days a week in the “Home” and each of them spends less than an hour to do a painting on environment friendly canvase, instead of spending 12 hours a day at traffic junctions doing dangerous jobs. These paintings are sold with the support of cultural centres and environmental protection NGOs, and all the proceeds are paid in full to the child’s family, so that their child does not have to do forced labour. Although their income is three or four times less than what they would earn working in the streets, but the Institute has to-date managed to convince a notable number of families not to send their children to the streets or dangerous underground workshops.
4 – Pretty sure you have several challenges and difficulties in your way, could you tell us what they are?
The lack of or the weakness of voluntary work culture.
Lack of knowledge of communication with child labourers (overall the deprived)
From your words it can be concluded that without a national will, to which the people and government are committed, the serious reduction of the problems of the country’s children is impossible. To this aim, NGOs that are all inclusively active, in the field of social work, can affect the general public on one hand and policy makers on the other hand, and by guiding the public culture, place the changing of the living conditions of vulnerable children – particularly child labourers – as a national issue in the working agendas of various departments.
By: Samaneh Modaressi
Children’s Rights Expert