“I went to remote areas so no one can make fun of me.” -Ali
By Asma Al-Mohattwari
In one of the streets of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, under the blazing sun, Ahmed was carrying a bag bigger than him, using it to collect bottles inside it.
Ahmed is a 12 year-old student in the 7th grade in one of Hadda’s schools. He lives with his sick father, mother and younger brothers. His father has a heart disease, so he can’t go to work and provide them with a living. Ahmed is the oldest so he is responsible for his brother. A child of 12 and a student in school, he is forced to be the provider of his family.
Ahmed started his journey of searching for a living, and the only thing he found was collecting the plastic bottles from the streets and selling them for a small amount of money. He is intelligent and he struggled not to leave school, so he decided to study in the morning and work after school. Every afternoon he leaves the school for the streets, forgetting all about the innocent child who has nothing to think about except studying and playing.
Under the heat of the sun and the dangers of garbage heaps, Ahmed spends hours collecting bottles to have at most 1000 YR at the end of the day to spend on his family.
Hundreds of Yemeni children work in garbage heaps, searching for anything that can be sold such as cans, water bottles, or wires in which their sale provides them with a small amount of money.
Children can be found in deplorable conditions walking around the streets, passing over thorns and stinking water and not caring about what might happen to them as a result of these dangers on their health and their livelihoods.
Their only interest is to look for waste, considering this profession as the only way out of the poverty in which they live. garbage collecting has become the only source of income for some poor families even though the sale does not provide them with a lot of money. A kilo of garbage is not even worth fifty Yemeni riyals.
Another child named Ali,10, left his first classes and went with his school bag to collect some bottles. He said that he doesn’t have money to pay for the exam so he left the first classes in order to provide the exam fee “I went to remote areas so no one can know me and make fun of me.”
According to the Child Rights law in Yemen, the employment of those under the age of fourteen is prohibited, but as a result of the absence of enforceable laws and lack of control children have lost most of their rights.
The children who are collecting form the garbage are exposed to many risks. The most dangerous is the health risks that they may be exposed to through collecting garbage.
Doctor Ahlam Tariq, Children Specialist, said that it is known that garbage contains household, factory, and hospital waste which contains rotting foods, chemicals, expired materials, and other waste that espouse health risks and environmental risks. All these interact with each other due to weather conditions such as humidity and lead to the spread of germs and viruses in the air.
“These interactions cause many diseases such as hepatitis and physical infections such as skin diseases that may be very chronic and be difficult to treat and need time to be treated then the child is victim of these symptoms,” Dr. Ahlam continued.
Dr. Ahlam says that the children are more susceptible to disease and infection from working among waste with no gloves or muzzles as well as because children’s immune systems are very weak and vulnerable to disease and infection.
“Through the cases that come to us, diagnosed by tests, we found that most of it caused by pollution or exposure to dirt,” she added
She advised that cleanliness is the most important thing and this is the responsibility of everyone to educate children, starting with the family, the school, and then governmental authorities.
She added that children should be given protection, prevention and education that gives them information about diseases that may be exposed, especially school children working in garbage who then transmit the disease to their colleagues.
This phenomenon has not only a health impact, but also a negative impact on a child’s behavior and on society, as well as severe psychological damage that can occur to the child.
Psychologist Ebtisam Zaid said that children have the right to live, learn and wear clean clothes and eat whatever they want, but some cannot and have nothing to do but collect garbage to make a living. This makes the child feel that people are watching them and making fun of them, forcing the child started to avoid people and live in a solitary environment. “In this case, the child will have frustration, which turns into depression, which is the case of convergence and then they start to neglect themselves, their clothes, their food and drink and may even resort to suicide.”
She also indicate that there is social damage associated with such work where they may not be able to make a family, and even where they do, they will will never be compatible with it and will not adapt to life.
Psychologist Ebtisam suggested that institutions should exist not just for awareness, but to take these children and raise them so they become a provider for people in the community and not left to corruption. “What is happening is not just economic corruption, but it is a self corruption.”
“Children are created to enjoy and have fun and not to suffer. Their childhood should be given back to them” she concluded.