Rana Alshami | 30 March 2016 | Gaza
I am a child of Gaza, raised among its ruins rebuilt so times. I think often about the children of Gaza. I have witnessed too many deprived of their human rights. It’s become worst since the last Israeli invasion of our land. Through the hardship the children however smile, teaching me and the rest of the world about life.
There is desperation and difficulty experienced by people around the world. But Gaza is not the same. Here we are under a constant siege, trapped in a prison under the watchful eye of an occupation force, living in anticipation of the next ground and air assault.
So every situation, of desperation or joy, is never normal.
Two days ago, two children near a restaurant begged me to buy from them. Saher and Muhammad, 11 and 8 years old respectively, left school to work and help support their family – a total of 11 brothers and sisters. While selling their little wares, the realisation dawned upon me that this was simply a form of child labour as a result of the siege. An abnormality compounded by the abnormality of our entire situation.
“My dad is ill and my mother can‘t leave the smaller children. So we had to leave school and start working on the streets to help the family,” the siblings told me. “We have no choice but to beg on streets or our family will starve.”
“My only dream is to go back to school,” Muhammad added with tears in his eyes.
Sadly, there are many children like Saher and Muhammad who are risking their health and their entire lives to support their families. The results of the various Israeli attacks have not only reduced so many buildings in the Gaza to rubble, but have destroyed the future of so many of its offspring.
Child labour is spreading throughout Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The children are deprived of their innocence by being forced to witness horrific violence, death and sickness on a daily basis. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 102 000 children under the age of 18 are working and 65 000 are between the ages of 7-14.
The US Department of Labor has also noted the severity of the situation in its report as recently as 2014.
It is the need for basic necessities like clean water and a full stomach that has caused this widespread tragedy. The children have no choice but to live an existence of day-to-day survival due to the inhumane blockade.
There is a constant state of fear. They have nightmares about being abducted and tortured by the occupying forces. Their feelings of helplessness and frustration are incomprehensible to most people in the world. Their lives of playing games and make believe are over. They have been forced to grow up in a prison in which the games are death, torture, starvation and sickness. The damage being done to their small minds and bodies can never be cured.
The occupation has unleashed a slow death upon the children of Gaza as if to stress the population into extinction. The children of Gaza bear the greatest burden and sacrifice. When will their nightmares end? When will they run and be free like other children?