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|Yemeni Children Face Endless Challenges in Years to Come|
Written By: Moneer Al-Omari ( YEMEN POST STAFF)
Article Date: June 09, 2008
Though children form up nearly 50 percent of Yemen's population estimated to be over 22 million, they are not given the required attention and care. Children face numerous challenges including death of preventable diseases, early marriage, child smuggling and labor.
Further, there is a malnutrition crisis among Yemeni children, especially when the country imports over 70 percent of its food supply from outside. The problem swells out of the increased poverty rates, unemployment, price hikes, etc.
According to Sana'a-based UNICEF office, high levels of poverty mean that families cannot afford enough food to give their children a healthy start.
"Yemen's nutrition crisis may be off the world's radar, but the numbers speak loudly. Half of all children are underweight, and half are stunted. Malnourished children have a greater risk of getting diseases, long-term mental disability and untimely death," reported UNICEF.
According to sources, the nutrition crisis is to blame for 50 percent of child deaths in Yemen.
UNICEF estimates that over 10 percent of the Yemeni workforce is made up of children, mainly because of poverty. Most working children belong to rural areas; however, they are still underpaid and subjected to harassment.
Children work either try to escape violence they face at home from one of the parents, or do so to help their families who face financial difficulties.
Mohammed Al-Houbaishi, 12, left his school in Ibb and traveled to Sana'a to support his family, his mother and three sisters. He stresses that he wished that he could of finished his education.
Forced by his father's death to work, he roams Sana'a intersections carrying a small box of cassettes and CDs. He makes something between YR 300 to 500 a day; however, he stresses that this sum is not enough to cover up for his own daily needs, let aside his family's needs.
Numbers of child labor are on increase, especially under the ongoing economic crisis in the country, and the rapid increase of food commodities and basic services.
Children also do unpaid jobs in their family houses, farms and shops. They also work in hazardous and undesirable jobs and, sometimes, jobs that can only be done by adults.
Children searching for work could end up living in streets of cities according to UNICEF. Some of them are arrested or detained for months in juvenile detention centers.
Even worse, children are trafficked across borders to Saudi Arabia to work as herders or laborers in farms. Others are being exploited in begging or illegal jobs.
The Yemeni government has only recently started to realize the risks of child smuggling or labor and worked on formulating policies that could help put a limit to such problems.
It set up centers for receiving children who experienced smuggling or labor under hard circumstances in collaboration with some organizations interested in child issues.
School enrollment and drop-outs
Though the country has made a noticeable progress as for basic education expansion, still considerable numbers of children (mainly girls) are still out of schools. The problem is appalling in remote and desert areas where children chances to get basic education are slim.
Culture could be a factor in preventing girls from joining schools, and even when they receive basic education, very few continue their secondary education and university later.
UNICEF puts the number of girls not receiving basic schooling at 50 percent. Poverty and backward cultural customs are key factors as most families prefer boys to girls and see that the normal place for girls to be houses.
Ibb resident Huda Hasan, 20, bitterly admits that she was forced by her family to leave school after she finished the sixth grade, emphasizing that it is a norm in her village that girls should stay in houses after finishing the sixth grade.
Hasan goes on to say that her family rejected the idea of making her complete her education because there is no school close to their village. Thus, she was compelled to leave school, despite the fact that she was smarter than her brothers.
She maintains that she got married while she was only 16-years-old; however, they could not reconcile and she was divorced one year after her marriage as she currently lives uneducated in her father's house.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children have been victims of early marriage, a marriage made while one of the couple are still less than 18 years of age.
Very recently, a Sana’a court ordered divorcing an eight-year-old from her husband who was in his early 30s. Though Noujod managed to restore her freedom and become a child one again, none knows the volume of psychological hurt she experienced from early marriage.
Nevertheless, a controversial law to stop early marriage or to fix a certain age for marriage was stalled in parliament, because of different social and cultural reasons.