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Children pay the price for poverty

Muscat: Ahmed, a sombre looking boy no more than 16 years of age, takes to the sea everyday, to help his family manage two square meals. Like Ahmed, there are many children across Oman who have to drop out of schools early to make both ends meet.

Dozens of children from the Sidab area go for fishing, either to help their families who survive on low incomes, or because they find it an easier way to make some money and build their future.

However, due to their inexperience at the sea, some of these children are swallowed by the ruthless waves every year, according to the residents of Sidab.

Take another case. Yaser works for eight hours everyday at one of the barbecue restaurants in the wilayat of Seeb, where, he says, he earns a meagre OMR4! More than six children work along with Naser, some still at school and others drop-outs. They say they are helping their impoverished families that depend on meagre social security salaries.

Such heart-breaking scenes and stories hit one all across the country as children work as porters, vendors, fish-mongers and fishermen.

Widespread phenomenon
The National Committee for Human Rights says child labour is a widespread phenomenon in the Sultanate, and there have been even cases where children sometimes have to work because their elders order them to.

There is no penal law prohibiting children from working, and such a law could help curb this menace that could have a severe socioeconomic impact.

Cooperation required
In order to counter and eradicate the menace of child labour, cooperation is required among all the concerned authorities, such as the Royal Oman Police, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development, and the anti-begging department.

Khalid Hamdan, a psychologist, says that providing education to these children is very important for the development of any country; otherwise, it would have severe social and economic impact.

"Most of these children's families force them to work to supplement their low incomes amid skyrocketing cost of life," Hamdan says.

A family of two receives a social security income of OMR174 per month, while a three-member family receives OMR150. Similarly, a four-member family receives OMR172, a six-member family OMR206, a seven-member family OMR226, a eight-member family gets OMR242, nine-member family OMR294, while a 10-member family receives OMR264.

Majlis Al Shura
Meanwhile, the Majlis Al Shura recently criticised the Ministry of Social Development, saying its insistence that an amount of OMR264 was enough for a family of 10 to survive on, was not practical.

It may be recalled that the Ministers' Council had proposed to dedicate 2012 as the Year of the Child in the Sultanate and the government has initiated the process to implement the child welfare law but it has not yet taken the final shape.

Implementing new laws
Meanwhile, observers believe that the government should root out the child labour problem by implementing new laws that provide greater protection to such helpless children, and to help their families raise their incomes as the current earnings were not enough for them to make ends meet. Academicians too have urged that these children should be back at the school, and must receive a good education so that they, too, can contribute towards the development of the country.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics available as yet on the number of children leaving school early and opting to work, but some expect the number to be in thousands nationwide.

Read the original article on Times of Oman.