After years of combined government and NGO measures to eliminate child labor in Jordan, the country noted a rise in child labor during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, Jordan’s National Child Labour Survey revealed that about 76,000 children were involved in some form of economic activity. About 60% of these children performed dangerous labor including mining, blacksmithing and repairing automobiles. Jordan Labor Watch finds that the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has led to an increase in child laborers, mostly due to the increased economic hardships of families.
How COVID-19 Contributes to Child Labor in Jordan
The World Bank predicts that poverty rates in Jordan would reach as much as 27% due to the onset of COVID-19. As with other countries, COVID-19 has led to widespread job losses and reductions in income as some businesses shut down and others struggle to stay afloat. Due to a lack of robust social programs and safety nets, Jordanians struggle with little means to provide for their families. Jordan Labor Watch explains that “As the unmet financial needs of families in Jordan rises, the chances of children working to contribute to their family’s income also rises — no matter how modest this added income might be.”
In April 2020, a UNICEF assessment found that 23% of “vulnerable households in Jordan” lack internet access. Amid pandemic-induced school closures, children who cannot transition to remote learning are more susceptible to child labor. Parents often push children who are not receiving an education into child labor to add to the household income. This is a common reality in spite of children facing exploitation with low wages, hazardous job conditions and possible sexual and physical violence.
The Characteristics of Child Labor in Jordan
The 2016 National Child Labour Survey reveals specifics on child labor in Jordan. About 43.2% of the 70,000 child laborers ages 5 to 17 work in the agricultural industry while 42.6% work in the services sector and 14.2% work in industry roles. Jordanian children account for about 80% of all these child laborers while Syrian children account for 15%. The latter mostly consists of refugees with few protective barriers guarding them and limited access to education. Furthermore, almost 90% of these child laborers are boys.
Within the services sector, many children engage in hazardous labor such as repairing vehicles and “scavenging scrap metal.” Other children working in this sector wash vehicles, care for animals that transport tourists and complete domestic duties. Child labor within the industry sector primarily consists of mining, quarrying, carpentry, blacksmithing, manufacturing and construction.
Though Jordan has made moderate efforts to eradicate the worst forms of child labor, extreme forms of child labor still exist within the country. The two worst forms of child labor in Jordan are forced begging and soliciting minors for paid sexual activity, sometimes a result of human trafficking.
Efforts to Eliminate Child Labor
Over the last decade, Jordan’s government has taken a variety of measures to end child labor within its borders. By 2016, the country established a database on child labor within the Ministry of Labor. The nation also adopted the National Framework to Combat Child Labor in 2011, a comprehensive child labor policy that “aims to tackle the issue throughout the Kingdom through systematic monitoring of child labor and collective action by key stakeholders, mainly the ministries of Labour, Education and Social Development.” Additionally, Jordan established apprenticeship programs for youths, a training manual for school counselors and more anti-child labor efforts targeting Syrian refugees.
How UNICEF Has Taken Action
UNICEF began a 2021 program to tackle child labor in Jordan in partnership with the Rowad Al Khair organization. The Jordanian government and authorities support the program, which intends to assist “families who are vulnerable to economic shocks, including the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Qualified social workers will “work directly with families and communities to identify, prevent and manage the risks of child labor and tailor a response specific to their needs.”
According to UNICEF, “400 of the most vulnerable child laborers, boys and girls, of all nationalities, aged 6-18 years will receive psychosocial support and help to access education, life skills, entrepreneurship opportunities and training.” Vulnerable households will receive “specialized support,” such as cash assistance and education on the detrimental consequences of child labor.
Tamkeen is a local organization within Jordan taking a stand against child labor, among other issues. This NGO is dedicated to raising legal awareness on labor issues while promoting human rights and fighting human trafficking with particular emphasis on the rights of migrants and refugees. Tamkeen also publishes papers on issues like child labor, workplace safety and the working conditions of migrant workers in Jordan.
The Future of Jordan’s Vulnerable Youths
Though child labor is rising in Jordan, the government and NGOs are taking action to quell the illegal practice, improving the lives of children. The nation may feel the impact of COVID-19 for years to come, but Jordan’s ongoing efforts to combat child labor will eventually lead to a decline in the number of child workers.
– Nate Ritchie