YEMEN: Moves to tackle child smuggling to Saudi Arabia

Officials at Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MSAL) say child smuggling into Saudi Arabia is still going on, especially in the northern province of Hajja, but efforts are being made to prevent it.

Iman Mashour, a consultant at the MSAL’s Combatting Child Labour Unit, told IRIN “the Saudi authorities say on average they arrest 10 smuggled children a day”, but that there were no exact figures, he said.

If the smuggled children are arrested, the Saudi authorities bring them back to the border.

“Smuggling children into Saudi Arabia is going on and it takes place secretly as parents keep the issue secret. They do not tell others about their smuggled children as the latter contribute to the family income,” she said.

Child welfare centres set up by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and run by MSAL aim to alleviate the problem. According to ministry data, Haradh centre, in Hajja Province, received 900 smuggled children in 2006 and another 622 in 2007. In early January 2008 a centre was also set up in Sanaa to cater for smuggled and street children.
Smuggled children exposed to abuse, killing

Jamal al-Haddi, general manager of Alternatives to Combat Child Labour Through Education and Sustainable Services in the Middle East and North Africa Region (ACCESS-MENA) in Yemen, told IRIN his organisation began a study in October 2007 on child smuggling in Hajja Province.

“According to available data… 30 percent of schoolchildren in border villages had been smuggled into Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Smuggled children were in danger of being sexually abused or killed: “When the Saudi authorities arrest them they put them in prison with adults. In the Yemeni border village of al-Khadour 20 smuggled children were found dead. They were killed either by Saudi bullets or military vehicles over the past few years while trying to enter Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Al-Haddi said some smuggled children were used – sometimes with their parents’ consent – to bring in sacks of flour from Saudi Arabia, using donkeys. Others take cattle from Yemen to sell in Saudi Arabia, because Yemeni cattle are higher quality and fetch higher prices than in Yemen.

“These children cross the border at night and walk 6-7km. They go in groups of 20-30,” he said.

Trying to reduce child-trafficking

ACCESS-MENA is working on a project to reduce child trafficking in Hajja Province. It is setting up social clubs and refurbishing nine schools with the aim of keeping students at school, according to al-Haddi.
“We provided each school with a generator and four computers. We also established entertainment facilities,” al-Haddi said.

The aim is also to bring formerly smuggled children back to school. “We ask parents not to send their children to Saudi Arabia again and be committed to doing so,” al-Haddi said, adding that the project also trained teachers. Five training sessions for 100 teachers are planned for February.

Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communication and information officer at the UNICEF office in Yemen, said that if children are not in school, they are more susceptible to being trafficked or end up doing dangerous jobs.
“In 2005-2006, 1.2 million children were out of school. They provided a fertile ground for child trafficking. So UNICEF began an awareness-raising programme and tries to get more children into school,” Nasim Ur-Rehman said.

According to Ur-Rehman, before 2005, Yemen’s government had been in a state of denial regarding child trafficking. UNICEF had been working to raise awareness of the issue in government circles, he said.
Source: IRIN

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