Showing child labor the ‘red card’
Most of us seem to take it for granted when we see young children on street corners begging or selling chewing gum or cheap trinkets. We usually adopt some personal moral standard who we give money to and who we won’t.
But there are enough well-meaning Saudis and expats out there who always think nothing of giving a few riyals to a child, believing they just helped feed a starving kid. Think again.
More than likely the child you are sure that you fed today actually gave that money to an adult. And that adult profited greatly from your good nature and compassion. Let me put it this way: When you give SR 2 to a 7-year-old boy standing on the median at a traffic light, it actually goes to the gangster to put him there in the first place.
I don’t know how many exploited children are in Saudi Arabia begging, selling stuff or washing your car’s windshield for a few riyals, but the number I heard thrown around lately is nearly 2 million countrywide, which includes Saudis and expats.
I confess I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the issue until a group of young female college students from Umm Al-Qura University came to our university campus recently with a supervisor to recruit volunteers to help reduce child labor.
It’s thrilling for me to see that young Saudi women are taking up social causes like child labor by spreading the word that we actually enable criminals to make a considerable sum of money by exploiting children. These volunteers found other young university students to help them take up the cause, and with enough young people out in the public educating Saudis and expats alike we may be able to make a difference in children’s lives.
The young women’s efforts are part of a larger “red card against child labor” campaign organized by the National Family Safety Program of the National Guard along with the Women’s World Summit Foundation and the World Trade Organization (WTO). A four-day awareness campaign was held last month, and the students’ efforts at King Saud university campuses in Jeddah and other cities are an extension of that campaign.
Sarah Siraj Abed, director of the National Family Safety Program in the Western Region, told reporters last month that the goal was to stop exploitation and raise awareness that child labor harmed their health and their physical development, and also created emotional problems.
“The Convention on Children’s Rights that was adopted in 1989 for the protection of children from economic exploitation stipulates that work is likely to be hazardous or interfere with their education, harm their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,” Abed said in a statement to the media.
In fact, Saudi Arabia already has laws in place designed to protect children. Article 161 of the Saudi Labor Law stipulates that children cannot work in harmful industries that could affect their health and safety.
But laws on the books are only as good as the tools used for enforcement. Municipal police often clear many busy intersections of beggars and sellers only to have them return two months later. Only more manpower and resources will permanently keep beggars and vendors off the streets. So, it’s vital that the public play a more aggressive role in rescuing children from the hardships of hard labor by refusing to submit to their emotions and simply not hand out money to youngsters who will never see it.
If enough Saudis and expats hold up the red card that says “no” to child labor instead of a bundle of single riyal notes, perhaps those children will learn to lead normal lives because their employers will find that sending them into the streets is not profitable.
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