For Syrians, working children provide a hint of financial relief


June 16, 2014

June 16, 2014

International aid organization CARE is trying a new approach to stopping child labor, an increasing problem in Jordan where their small income can nevertheless keep a household running.

This month, CARE is launching a program that will pay Syrian families to keep their children in school. The pilot program will run over 10 months in Jordan, now home to an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees, and will pay Syrian families $100 per month.

If the program works, CARE officials say, they will consider expanding it. The assistance falls in line with the organization’s mission to “fight global poverty and provide lifesaving assistance in emergencies.”

http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/syria-jordan-baqaa-refugee-camp-adnan-workshop-repair.jpgFor many Syrian refugees, “young sons have to earn the income for the family,” says CARE.

In Jordan, where Syrian refugees are largely not allowed to work, the situation certainly fits an emergency. A CARE study of Syrians in Jordan released this past April found that 90 percent of urban refugees live in debt to landlords, relatives, neighbors or shopkeepers.

So why do parents send their young children out to do back-breaking work in construction, scrap metal yards or washing dishes on the late-night shift at an Amman café?

“There are no other options,” CARE Jordan country director Salam Kanaan tells Brent Eng. “In a lot of cases, young sons have to earn the income for the family in order to survive.”

Q: Why would a family make its children work? What are the different pressures that families are feeling?

Well, let me paint you this picture. Now we are in the fourth year of this conflict. The majority of the Syrians that came to Jordan are from the South: Dara’a to Damascus, mostly rural areas. They are a mix of farmers and Bedouins. Almost 90-95 percent that came to Jordan are of this type. Some went to the refugee camp Zaatari, but the majority came to the urban areas, either with friends or families, or on their own.

Now whatever savings they had brought with them they have already spent over the last four years.

Our monitoring tells us that people spend most of their money on shelter and specialized healthcare.

Now if those people looking for work are desperate, they are willing to accept less pay. And this is what is happening. Refugees are accepting less than minimum standards. There are no other alternatives. All the aid money is not enough.

Q: What types of jobs are the children working?

Some are street vendors, so you see them near the traffic lights in cities such as Maan and they sell chewing gum, napkins, etc. Some are in bakeries, supermarkets and grocery stores. Others are in agriculture in places such as Balqa in the Jordan Valley. Construction is another. So manual labor, unskilled labor.

Q: How did you come up with this program?

Based on assessments CARE has been conducting, we found out that children are dropping out of school, and some not even registering, despite the fact that the Jordanian government has made schools free and open for the refugees.

When we investigated further, we found out that children have to drop out of school in order to help their parents. The reasons why vary, but it has to do with poverty, with being a refugee.

In most cases the head of the household is either absent or cannot work for obvious reasons. Syrian workers also have to get a permit from the Jordanian government to legally work, which costs lots of money and is a complicated process.

Q: How did you decide on the specifics of this program, such as the period of ten months and amount of $100 per month? Have you tried to implement this program in other places?

We have not tried the program in other places within the CARE organization. This is for us an innovative program, but there are other organizations in other parts of the world that have implemented similar conditional cash programs, including in countries in this region such as in Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt.

The reason for the $100 is because that it is the average amount of money that a child will bring home in a month. We wanted to continue to provide the conditional cash to the families through CARE on the condition that the child attends school. The indicator that we will be satisfied with is the school attendance records.

Q: So you will be following up with the children then?

Yes, we will be working with the mothers, father, guardians of the children. Providing case management, providing psycho-social support in order to support them and help them value education and make use of the money given.

Q: What can you realistically achieve in the 10-month period?

The first objective is that the children go back to school. The next hope is that the parents can find work during that time so that the children do not have to return work after the cash transfer dries out. We also want to enhance the protective sphere for the children. We don’t have any statistical evidence but all anecdotal evidence suggests that children are exposed to and affected by forms of exploitation and abuse, violence.

Q: Has there been in a shift in mentality from relief to development as it becomes clear that the Syrians here will stay?

We are trying to work with the government and the international community on this transition, on expanding the protective avenues, on expanding opportunities, on building resilience livelihood programming and through psycho-social support. We have developed the concept of “safe spaces.” With those spaces, we offer technical training and vocational skills, some type of capacity building for refugees.

One example is the program “Photos Can Talk.” Last March we had together 40 young refugees, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis and Jordanians, who we taught photography as well as identity building, self confidence, acceptance and communication skills. The young people then went to their homes and took pictures of their lives. After, we held an exhibition and each person had the chance to explain their pictures. This program is an example of how we are expanding from our normal cash-intervention programs into work that focuses on skills that can help employability. We later gave them the cameras so they can use them and work after the program.

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