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Middle East & North Africa

2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

2014 Regional Outlook

Meaningful efforts:

  • Strengthened legal frameworks to address child labor.
  • Expanded social programs to improve access to education.

Challenges and existing gaps:

  • Weak enforcement of child labor legal protections.
  • Lack of research or current data on child labor.
  • Limited access to education and high drop-out rates for children, including both refugee and citizen children.

Region Summary

In the Middle East and North Africa, 9.2 million children are engaged in child labor, which is 8 percent of all children in the region.(8) The majority of the countries in the region made Moderate Advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Of the four countries that made Minimal Advancement, two have a limited child labor problem and two were significantly affected by large-scale conflict.

In 2014, armed conflict broke out or intensified in Iraq, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Yemen. Non-state armed groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), recruited children to serve as armed guards at checkpoints, suicide bombers, bomb makers, and human shields. Iraqi and Yemeni laws do not include penalties for the recruitment or use of children by armed groups. Some children in the Gaza Strip also received military training from Hamas.

The prolonged conflict in Syria continued to cause refugees to flee to neighboring countries. In Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, despite government efforts, Syrian refugee children did not have sufficient access to education. Access to education was also limited for local children in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Yemen, while the drop-out rates in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Yemen remained high. Barriers to education include an insufficient number of schools, the need for families to generate additional income through their children’s labor, school-related costs, lack of security, and damage to schools or their use as shelters by internally displaced persons. These problems are further exacerbated in areas of conflict in Iraq, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Yemen. To increase access to education for refugee or local children, the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia launched or participated in programs to increase school attendance and reduce drop-out rates.

Despite a few important exceptions, the legal framework in the region mostly meets international child labor standards. Egypt and Tunisia adopted constitutions that codify children’s rights. Oman enacted a law that raises the minimum compulsory education age and prohibits the use of children in illicit activities. Jordan enacted a law that increases protection for child laborers, while Algeria amended its Penal Code to fully prohibit child pornography.

Countries in the region also made some progress in establishing policies to address child labor. Prior to losing control over ministries due to armed conflict, Yemen announced a national action plan to prevent and end the recruitment of children into the Yemeni armed forces. Bahrain approved a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Both Lebanon and Tunisia began implementing their respective anti-human trafficking national action plans, even though their formal adoption remained pending as of the end of 2014. Morocco established a mechanism to coordinate efforts to address child labor.

Despite adequate legal frameworks, governments in the region lack the capacity to enforce child labor laws. Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen did not make child labor enforcement information publicly available. Lack of access to certain areas of the territory; inadequate training, funding, and resources for transportation; and an insufficient number of labor inspectors contributed to weak law enforcement efforts in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, despite limited resources, Jordan was able to carry out an increased number of child labor inspections.

Another major obstacle in addressing child labor issues is the lack of up-to-date child labor data in Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. In response to the lack of information, the Government of Iraq, in cooperation with UNICEF, conducted a study on child labor.