By Barkhad Dahir in Hargeisa
Every day, dozens of children aged 7 to 14 shine shoes and wash cars in the front parking lot of the Adani Cafeteria in Hargeisa’s June 26th district.
“I come very early in the morning from my home in Dami neighbourhood to support my family by working as a shoe-shiner,” 9-year-old Ahmed Hassan said. “From [around 7:00 a.m.] to 8:00 p.m., I earn up to $3.”
He said he works out of necessity but “would like to be sent to school”.
Hassan is among a growing number of Somaliland boys and girls caught up in the child labour market and whose rights are being violated, according to regional officials and children’s rights advocates.
Child labour has escalated here because of the increase in the number of displaced people, recent droughts, urban migration and loss of livestock, said Ahmed Hassan Yusuf, who directs the Somaliland branch of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect.
“What is missing is the role of legislation, which is the most important tool,” Yusuf told Sabahi. “The Juvenile Justice Law in Somaliland addresses only children who break the law and how to penalise them, but it does not address crimes against them.”
Parents often are the ones who send their children off to work.
Yusuf Osman of the Ga’an Libah district said he was forced to send two of his boys to work as shoe-shiners and car washers to help support their family of 11.
“The elder is 13 years old,” said Osman, who does not work. “I removed him from the middle school [that] he attended tuition-free for two years.”
The exploitation of children for labour by parents and others violates the basic rights of minors, said Ahmed Yusuf Hussein, head of Hargeisa-based Horn Human Rights Umbrella.
Working children aged 11 and under are visible all over Somaliland, toiling away as shoe-shiners, car washers, bus conductors and dishwashers, he said, adding that employers prefer to hire under-age workers because they can put in long hours for low wages.
“The government has no clear policies set to combat this issue,” he told Sabahi. “I am proposing the creation of a fund to address the abuses being committed against the children.”
Child labour a ‘problem that exists all over Somaliland’
Despite a lack of resources, the Somaliland regional Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is campaigning hard to end child labour and abuse, said Filsan Hussein Khalif, director of the children’s rights and protection division.
“No official count has yet been done on the number of working children, but the number is increasing and it is a general problem that exists all over Somaliland,” she said.
Khalif said the ministry was investigating possible exploiters of child labour, and has documented complaints about parents physically abusing their children because they did not bring home enough earnings.
“Children are robbed of their earnings by older ones, and as earnings go down or they lose it, they are beaten by their parents when they go home,” she told Sabahi. “Later, because they are afraid, they become homeless.”
Last year, the ministry and the international non-governmental organisation Save the Children created income-generating programmes for 85 poor families as a way to prevent parents from sending their children to work. The ministry also collaborated with international non-governmental organisation SOS Children’s Villages to finance small-scale business opportunities for 45 more families.
In 2012, the ministry created a centre to rehabilitate homeless street children in the Mohamed Mooge district of Hargeisa, Khalif said, adding that the centre now houses 140 boys and girls.
The ministry this year plans to count the number of child workers in Somaliland, Khalif said, without elaborating on what new policies, if any, the regional administration plans to pursue in order to protect children from being exploited.