“I wanted to be a doctor but I couldn’t. I hope my son can be a manger,” Sumia said hopefully. “Dreams are the only things people cant take from me.”
The tragedy in the eyes of Sumia, 19, is clear. She usually sits on one of Hadda’s sidewalks in front of Green Land Restaurant, waiting for crumbs of food or tens of riyals she collects to pay the rent of her house. Her house is an old room that should be unlivable. People don’t even look at her when they pass. “They treat animals better than me” she said. But why has Sumia been unable to find a job? When Sumia was fourteen years old, her mother got a divorce, and she lived with her mother-in-law. At the same time, her father prevented her from attending her first year in school and married her to a very poor man.
Sumia thought that by marriage she could escape her mother-in-law’s cruelty and her father’s injustice. In reality, it was more difficult. Her husband was illiterate, poor, and had no job. He cleaned cars in the street. For Sumia and her husband, finding out that they were pregnant was devastating news. They had no means to feed or educate a child. They dreamed that their baby could somehow be different from them. When the day of birth came, it was a boy, but the parents couldn’t’ force a smile.
Two years passed and Sumia stopped breastfeeding and decided to join her husband in providing their son better life. Now Sumia spends her time in front of the Green Land Restaurant because people of different economic backgrounds eat there and give her money or food. Yet nothing could stop her from dreaming. She wanted to be a doctor but she couldn’t; now she put her hope on her son to be a manager.
Yemeni Law No. 45 of 2002 on Children’s Rights requires the state to take necessary measures to aid children suffering from difficult living circumstances. Many children are exposed to abuse, exploitation, or lured into performing illegal acts.
Despite this law, the number of street children continues to increase for many reasons, including the level of family income, lack of schools and compulsory education, lack of knowledge of child labor laws, racism, wars and crises that create an economic burden, and the lack of international programs to fight poverty.
According to a study prepared by the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, familial poverty is the main reason for child labor, where the whole family is forced to work to secure their living. Huda Yahiya, a teacher, noted that to solve the child labor problem the Ministry of Education should make education free, including registration, uniforms, books, stationery and school supplies, and they should make education obligatory.
A report by ILO/World Bank/UNICEF project “Understanding Children’s Work in Yemen” reveals,
“Despite important economic and social progress, Yemen’s national context remains one conducive to child labor. High levels of fertility and consequent high dependency ratios, widespread poverty, frequent exposure to collective disruptions, low levels of access to basic services, and problems of school access and quality, all represent important motivations for households to involve their children in work rather than to invest in their schooling.”
Dr. Hanan Ali, a psychologist, said that regardless of education, child labor affects a child’s psychology, causing different mental maladies like introversion and depression.
“Yemen can’t be developed if we don’t take a serious step towards providing these children with education, as education is the main investment for development,” she said.
Salim and Ibrahim are just two examples of thousands of children who suffer everyday in Yemen. To fix these problems and free our street children, organizations, governments, businessmen and Yemenis in general should align for the future of Yemen’s children and the future of Yemen.