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Poverty forces Gaza children into labor market

April 14, 2013 9:18 P.M. (Updated: April 20, 2013 5:37 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Poverty in the Gaza Strip is forcing a growing number of Palestinian children to drop out of school and enter the job market.

Israel's siege on the coastal territory, the high cost of living and the loss of family members who were previously bread winners, have forced children to find work in the informal economy in order to provide for their families.

"I have been selling cigarettes for one and a half years," Mustafa al-Assar, 12, told Ma'an.

"My father forced me to leave school in the third grade. I work from the early morning selling cigarettes to drivers, bystanders, and passengers at the main road of al-Nuseirat."

Mustafa's father is also a street vendor, selling cigarettes for eight hours a day from a moving vehicle for fear of being arrested by customs police.

He tells Ma'an that three of his children work on the streets, selling cigarettes and other goods.

"My father gives me 5 ($1.3) to 8 ($2.2) shekels every day. This depends on how much I sell. My father takes the rest of the money for the family. It is a good job since my father and I do not have any other work," Mustafa says.

Muhammad al-Hour, 15, is also a street vendor in Gaza. He sells tea and coffee in a parking lot next to al-Nuseirat refugee camp.

"I wake up at 6 a.m. every day. I take a teapot and a coffeepot, and head to the parking lot of al-Nuseirat refugee camp. Many students and drivers buy coffee and tea from me."

Muhammad says his father is old and can no longer work and his brothers and sisters are too young to earn money.

He says he is surprised at how many other children work in the parking lot selling tea and coffee, but competition among sellers forces them to work in extreme cold and heat to make enough profit.

Social worker Muhammad Abu Ameira says poverty and illiteracy are two of the main factors behind the increase in child labor.

Child labor is a humanitarian problem which will multiply as more and more children leave school without basic literacy skills, Ameria told Ma'an.

These children will not be equipped to work in other sectors in the future and will be forced to continue working on the streets to provide for their families, he says.

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