Child labor in Syria: A phenomenon leaving physical and psychological scars

Children work in one of the car repair shops in Idlib - March 17, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Children work in one of the car repair shops in Idlib - March 17, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)


Enab Baladi – Razam al-Sawadi

Despite his young age, reality forced Mohammed to support his family after his father suffered from severe disc injury due to his work in transporting goods within a shopping center (porter).

Mohammed al-Hadhri, a 12-year-old child, is the eldest among his four siblings, who were displaced from the countryside of Hama to stay in the town of al-Fu’ah in Idlib province.

Mohammed now works in collecting nylon and empty metal drink containers from the streets and garbage collection points.

He spends the entire day moving between neighboring towns to his residence to gather as much nylon and empty containers as possible and sells what he has collected afterward, earning 30 Turkish lira (less than a dollar) per kilo, and sometimes one kilo is all he has gathered.

Like Mohammed, children in conflict and war situations, as in Syria, are subjected to various health, security, educational, and rights violations.

They are considered the weakest link, being exploited in fields that violate their childhood and affect their social and psychological lives.

One of the most prominent violations that child laborers are exposed to is the employment of children in dangerous work, in addition to their recruitment during wars.

A previous UN report on Children and Armed Conflict for the year 2022 considered Syria the worst globally in terms of recruiting and using children.

According to a study by the Borgen Project, children in Syria work in more than 75% of families, and nearly half of them provide a “joint” or “sole” source of income.

The situation in Syria is characterized by hidden forms of exploitation and child labor, which increasingly tends towards working in factories or as cleaners, garbage collectors, construction workers, mechanics, or carpenters, according to the study.

Vulnerable to bullying and injuries

Mohammed did not stop following his lessons and completing his homework; he starts his work after school hours and finishes by sunset, but his job created a barrier between him and his classmates, as he is constantly subjected to bullying by his peers in school and the neighborhood because of his profession.

The child Mohammed sadly said, “I wanted to work in tire repair, carpentry, and blacksmithing, but no one wanted to hire me, so I had to work in this profession.”

In addition to bullying and exclusion, Mohammed suffers from severe allergies in both hands due to rummaging through garbage, and his hands swell more due to the cold weather, so he uses medication to treat the allergy that he gets from time to time for free from a health center.

Meanwhile, Jalal Haditha (15 years old) lives with a permanent scar that reminds him of what happened during his work at a shop selling and maintaining batteries when hot acid splashed from one of the batteries as he tried to open it, resulting in burns on his face. One of the medical centers in his area took care of his treatment for free.

Jalal is forced to work despite its difficulty as he is the only male in his family of 4 girls, and his mother suffers from diabetes and foot pain, and his father passed away several years ago.

Jalal has not attended school since he was in the fourth grade of elementary school and has not thought about returning to it given the difficult financial circumstances he lives in.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that the military escalation in northwest Syria has significantly affected access to educational services for 2.2 million school-aged children.

It added that there are 2.2 million school-aged children living in northwest Syria, at least one million of whom are out of school, pointing out that the situation is particularly tragic in displacement camps.

UNICEF mentioned in one of its reports the social consequences of child labor, which leads to an exacerbation of social inequality and discrimination, unlike activities that help children develop, such as contributing to light household work or working during school holidays, as child labor limits access to education and harms the physical, mental, and social growth of a child, especially for girls. The “triple burden” of school, work, and household chores increases the risk of them falling behind, making them more susceptible to poverty and exclusion.

Children in the northwest regions of Syria live through these violations, and news is periodically published about their exposure to injuries or diseases during work, and sometimes it leads to their death.

Causes of child labor

The Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies identified the underlying reasons behind the spread of this phenomenon in a study titled “Child Labor During the Ongoing Syrian War since 2011.”

The study considered child labor an inevitable result of the war, noting that repeated and ongoing displacement of residents, the instability they live in, and continual bombardment contribute to the spread of the phenomenon.

The economic collapse caused by the wars, resulting in material poverty, has pushed parents to employ their children for meager wages to help secure living expenses.

Other reasons include the death of a breadwinner, which has widely opened the door to homelessness and work for these children, according to the study.

Repeated bombing in Idlib province led to the closure of a number of schools, as some schools turned into shelters for displaced people, thus opening up opportunities for children to move towards the labor market.

The study also indicated that the absence of oversight by the controlling authority, the lack of accountability for child labor exploiters who take advantage of children’s low wages, the lack of a clear law to completely stop child labor, and the inability of civil society and international organizations to contain the causes of the phenomenon and mitigate it due to the ongoing war—all increase the spread of the phenomenon.

Psychological and social impacts

Social counselor Intidali Abdul Aal told Enab Baladi that the concept of child labor refers to any work that harms the health, growth, or welfare of the child and does not belong to the beneficial tasks suitable for the child’s age, which helps in physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development without affecting their studies, rest, or enjoyment.

Child labor spreads in cases of disasters, conflicts, and wars where poverty proliferates and one or both breadwinners are lost.

The widespread phenomenon of child labor has negative repercussions on society and the individual due to reliance on an inadequately qualified workforce from the mental, intellectual, and physical standpoint.

The phenomenon’s spread results in a lower educated population in society as whole, in addition to increased physical harm from injuries, diseases, and psychological disorders as a result of depriving them of their childhood, exposing them to stresses and responsibilities that exceed their capacity early on, and not receiving adequate care at that time.

All these factors affect the structure of society and its future, as these children will grow up to establish families, while they have not yet been treated to what they have experienced in their childhood. This could result in a generation filled with psychological and physical problems and a low level of education, according to Abdul Aal.


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