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The COVID-19 crisis exacerbates child labor in Jordan

Jordan Labor Watch – Experts have warned of an increase in child labor in Jordan due to the COVID-19 crisis, as they indicated that the main driving factors of child labor have intensified significantly during the past six months. This issue was discussed in an online dialogue session held by the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, in order to present a position paper titled “Child labor in light of the COVID-19 crisis”, as part of a series of sessions on “Corona and the labor market” implemented by the Center in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

The participants emphasized that the reality of economic and social conditions is stronger than the Jordanian legislation and policies that combat child labor, as the Jordanian legislative texts that clearly prohibit child labor did not manage to prevent the expansion of child labor in Jordan. The paper presented by the Director of Phenix Center, Ahmad Awad, indicated that, according to the latest statistics available, in 2016 there were nearly 70,000 child laborers in the labor market in Jordan, of whom 45,000 worked in hazardous occupations.

Mr. Awad attributed the successive increases in child labor in Jordan to the exacerbation of social discrepancies and inequality, in addition to the decline in social justice indicators, which mainly resulted from the implementation of economic policies that did not take into account their socio-economic effects, and that during the past decades focused on liberalizing the national economy and implementing various austerity policies.

The paper clarified that the meaning of children, according to the definition provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations in 1989, includes “all persons under the age of 18 years old”. On the matter of child labor, children were divided into two groups; the children under 16 years of age cannot be employed under any circumstances, while the children between the age of 16 and 18 years old are allowed to be employed but only in non-hazardous occupations that are not harmful for their health.

The paper called for building a social protection system based on human rights standards and the principles of social protection floors, along with a review of unfair tax policies. Furthermore, the paper stressed the need for a review of the various economic policies that have been implemented in Jordan during the past decades and that led to an increase in unemployment and poverty rates. Indeed, the majority of working children belong to poor families, that either remove their children from schools or overlook their dropout, as they need them to provide additional income for the family to meet its basic needs.

The paper emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis caused a severe rise in the poverty rates, which will lead to an increase in the number of children entering into the labor market, especially in light of the implementation of distance education as students are not forced to attend their schools anymore.

In this context, the experts that participated in the session stressed the importance of developing pedagogical and educational processes during the primary stage of education in order to reduce the number of children dropping out of school and to provide an appropriate educational environment for children. They also underlined the need to, on one hand, study the consequences of the distance learning system used in most schools in the Kingdom and the consequences of the absence of in-person learning, on the other hand, ensure that the necessary means for distance learning are available to all students in the Kingdom equally. Finally, it was remarked the need to reconsider the limitation of compulsory primary education that is applied only to Jordanian and excludes students of other nationalities.

Many participants to the discussion pointed out the importance of shedding light on the consequences of the defense orders and government’s communications, and the resulting lockdown and closure of businesses, wage deductions and termination of services. Families’ financial condition has deteriorated to the point that they are often forced to push their children into the labor market in order to contribute to providing income for the family, and / or they are not able to sustain the education expenditure for their children.

Some participants pointed out that children are exposed to the risk of COVID-19 infection during their work, in addition to being exposed to ill-treatment, psychological and physical abuse, and sexual assaults. Also, those children working in hazardous occupations are exposed to work injuries that can leave them with disabilities or psychological and physical abusive behaviors, which can lead to many children deviating and rebelling against the standards and values of society.

The participants indicated that discussions about the dangers of child labor must be accompanied by clear and real alternatives proposed by official authorities and civil society organizations, in addition to providing detailed statistical data on the number of working children, their whereabouts, and the nature of their work, especially for those who work in the informal sectors, such as agriculture, that are difficult to enumerate and detect.

Overall, the session was attended by team of  Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies and many experts from the governmental sector, in addition to the National Council for Family Affairs, and the National Center for Human Rights.

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