Yemeni children narrate their sufferings on the street

[SANAA, 21 September 2006]- Yemeni street children are deprived of play, pleasure and enjoying their childhood. Such children know nothing of childhood except their thin bodies and innocence; however, they act as men through their work and the responsibility placed upon their shoulders at a young age.

They shoulder the responsibility for others before themselves. Such is their fate and their family circumstances, whether social or economic. They must spend long hours on the streets under the sun’s blazing heat. What they receive from their work is nothing as compared to the exploitation of their childhood, which is subject to various sorts of violence.

After spending a short time with them and asking about their life, every one narrates his own story that’s different from his friend, but they still live in the same situation. Asked many questions, such as when and why they began working on the street and what their future dreams are, the following are their replies:

Advancing to the second year of primary school, 7-year-old Mohammed Saleh Al-Hidri moved with his brother from Dhamar’s Ottomah district to work in Sana’a. Standing beside Qubat Al-Mutawakel Mosque, his sad face tells everything about such street children’s suffering and situations.

In talking with Al-Hidri, who sells chocolate, he seemed frightened and stammered while giving his name and age. “I get up at 7 a.m. and sell chocolate until noon. I then go to my brother and eat lunch with him, later returning to work until 7 p.m.

“My family members number seven. I came to Sana’a a month ago and now live with my elder brother and some other people in a small shop. This work isn’t suiting me at all because I’m still young and I can’t work,” Al-Hidri added.

At Saba’een Park, six brothers work together, with everyone specializing in selling one thing. The eldest, Badia Abu Ghaith narrates his experience selling with his five brothers.

“We’re a big family and my father is poor. We live in a small house. I sell women’s veils while my brothers, Ali and Salim, sell balls and balloons. Saleh and Sultan carry scales and ask people to weigh themselves, receiving YR 10 for everyone who does. My brother Nabil has nothing to sell, so he works as a bus fare collector.

“My father gathers us every evening to collect the money. Everyone must earn at least YR 200; otherwise, my father will punish him. We have to work hard all week and then Friday is a rest day for us when we can play football with neighborhood friends.

“I’m sometimes jealous of my sisters, who don’t work and can enjoy their childhood. I wish I was a girl and could sit home playing because, in traditional belief, it’s shameful and not allowed for girls to go out and work on the street,” he concluded.

Twelve-year-old Thebat Galib explains, “I’ve worked as a cassette seller on the street for five years. I was studying at school, but my father forced me to leave and work. When I refused, my father kicked me out of the house, but then I returned home on condition that I work and earn at least YR 500 a day.

“Three years ago, some men tried to kidnap me. They tried forcing me to get in their car but I refused and shouted until they left. In the future, I dream of going back to school and becoming a good teacher,” he added.

Fawiz Al-Hakimi is different than the others. A very clever student who gets high marks in school, he can balance between studying and working on the street. “I have to work because we’re eight children and my father’s income is low.”

He and his two brothers travel from Nuqum zone to Saba’een Park to work in the morning, then return home and prepare to go to school in the afternoon and spend all evening studying hard.

Al-Hakimi studies at Thurah School and is always excellent but unfortunately, he failed two years due to the stress under which he lives. “I’m now in eighth grade and I have to study many materials, but I can’t find the time or someone to help me in my studies.”

Amid his bad circumstances, Al-Hakimi has hopes and he struggles to achieve them. “I’m proud of my work and I don’t feel shy, even when my classmates laugh at me. I believe one day I’ll be a doctor and then I’ll be rich and provide a good opportunity to my kids to study and live their childhood as they want. I won’t allow them to suffer as I did,” he vowed.

Selling eggs is easy work, according to 8-year-old Rashid Abu Al-Azi and his three brothers. All of them sell eggs, studying in the morning and working in the afternoon. Rashid says, “I don’t like playing like the other children. I like to earn money. My father gives us the choice of either working or playing, but I and my brothers prefer to work and depend on ourselves.”

When asked to take a photo, they refused, responding, “If our father knew we did an interview, he’d beat us and punish us. No one knows we’re working in the park because it’s shameful, especially if our relatives or neighbors knew. They’d laugh at us.”

Having passed the sixth grade, 15-year-old Faisal Mohammed Taha came from Ibb’s Al-Odeen district half a month ago to sell water. Shouting, “Water! Water! Do you want water?” Taha explains, “I start working at 7:30 or 8 a.m. I buy a five-liter bottle of water for YR 30 and sell it at YR 100.

“However, some people drink my water and then refuse to pay me, claiming that I bring it from the mosque [meaning it isn’t clean water in order not to pay me. I get annoyed when they drink my water and don’t pay for it.”

He continued, “At noon, I buy a bottle of Canada Dry cola and sit beside the restaurant where my elder brother works in Bab Al-Sabah selling Pepsi to those who come to dine. I buy a bottle of Canada Dry cola at YR 30 and sell it for YR 35. I earn approximately YR 120-130 from selling Kowther water and YR 200-250 from selling Canada Dry cola. You can’t get this money except with much pain.

“My father asked me to do this [street selling] because our conditions aren’t that good and my older brother wants to marry. Furthermore, I need money for school expenses, uniform, books and notebooks,” Taha concluded.

Taha is unable to relinquish his innocence and instinct, though he loses money for these noble qualities. When asked if anyone bothers him by telling him not to work there, he replied, “No, just one from the municipality who daily asks me to pay him YR 50. I paied him once, but now I don’t give him anything. I run away when I see him.”

Twelve-year-old Akram Mohammed Ali, who has passed into seventh grade, was attracting attention with his briskness and way of calling passengers to board the bus at Al-Jamah-Shamlan bus stop, shouting, “Shamlan! Mathbah! Get on! Get on!”

He recalled, “When our only supporter, my father, who was a plumber, died after falling into a sewage hole in the capital three months ago, our five-member family became orphans. A month after his death, I started working on this bus as a fare collector.”

A new passenger boards the bus, so he gets up to collect fares. While doing this, he shouts at a passenger claiming to have paid the fare, saying, “Give me the fare! I swear by Allah that you didn’t pay a single riyal!”

In the end, the bus driver intervenes and asks the passenger to swear that he paid the fare; the latter swears and the former asks Ali to give him the change. Ali reluctantly hands it over, declaring, “He even wants the change!”

When asked how bus passengers deal with him, he replies, “Some passengers are good and some aren’t. When I ask them for the fare, they say, ‘It’s already with you,’ considering me too young to understand.”

Owner: Anwar Murghim & Fatima Al-Ajel pdf: Yemen Times


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