A Palestinian boy looks through the gate of his family's house at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GAZA - Child labor has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave's 43 percent unemployment rate.
In the past five years, the number of working children between the ages of 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the territory, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
The bureau said 2,900 of those children are below the legal employment age of 15. Economists in the narrow coastal strip, home to 1.9 million Palestinians, estimate the real number of underage workers could be twice as high.
The increase in Gaza goes against trends. The International Labor Organization says the worldwide number of children in labor has fallen by a third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million, with more than a fifth in sub-Saharan Africa.
At one garage in downtown Gaza, 16-year-old Mahmoud Yazji and another boy, aged 12, work nine hours a day. Mahmoud said he earns the equivalent of $13 a week; the younger boy takes home half of that.
"My father makes 1,000 shekels ($258) a month. It disappears in a few days and we struggle for the rest of the month," Mahmoud said.
Haitham Khzaiq, 16, quit school six months ago to sell candy apples to visitors at Gaza's newly developed seaport, a major picnic venue. He works a half-day, seven days a week, and said he earns a total of 20 shekels ($5).
"We are five brothers and eight sisters. I am the oldest son and I had to work because my father is unemployed," he said. "I don't earn enough but it is better than nothing and it is better than begging people for money."
A devastating 2014 war between Palestinian militants and Israel, border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt and the destruction of cross-border smuggling tunnels by an Egyptian government at odds with Gaza's Hamas rulers have contributed to economic hardship in the territory.