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Thu, 21 Nov 2019 00:04 GMT

Sudan's Children Fight Poverty with Dangerous Marginal Work


Mortada Ahmed

Sat, 19 Oct 2019 12:36 GMT

In the main transport station in the Arab Market in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, young Al-Sadiq Ali is often seen wandering and carrying a 10 litre-bottle filled with iced water. Dripping with sweat in the heat in temperatures of up to 40 °C, Sadiq waves at passers-by and offers a glass of water for a few pence. 

Al-Sadiq Ali, 12, sells iced water for tiny amounts of money, which cannot meet his daily needs in view of the prohibitively high prices of basic commodities in Sudan. However, he is always cheerful, and his smile means that people buy his water even if they are not thirsty, out of courtesy and encouragement. 

Next to Al-Sadiq, stands another child named Al-Mahi Al-Taher who pushes a wheelbarrow, which they call ‘Daraqqa’, and asks market regulars to help deliver their belongings to the place where they parked their cars in return for a few pennies. 

Al-Mahi and Al-Sadiq are an embodiment of the situation of thousands of Sudanese children who are working on the black market, which often exposes them to grave danger, in order to combat extreme poverty. 

On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, October 17th, which this year is calling for working together to empower children, their families and their communities to eradicate poverty, everyone is looking forward to a better future for Sudanese children, who are at great risk because of child labour and exploitation.

The marginal work that some of Sudan's children have chosen in order to deal with poverty, such as selling napkins and nuts on the roads, shining shoes, washing cars, and collecting rubbish and empty soft drinks cans, are all dangerous to their health and livelihood, and may sometimes cause death.

According to reports issued by the National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW) in Sudan (a government agency), three children die every day on the roads because of their involvement in dangerous marginal work. This is because a large number of them sell goods at traffic intersections, which makes them vulnerable to car accidents or being run over. In flagrant violation of the Sudanese Child Welfare Act, 33% of children under the age of 14 are engaged in a variety of professions.

On March 23rd, eight children were killed in a grenade explosion north of the capital Khartoum. Sudanese police said that the child victims found the bomb while searching for iron waste and took it home to try to divide it into pieces, but it exploded and killed them all.  

In a similar tragedy, on March 24th 2017, five children were killed in the town of Quraish, Gedaref state, eastern Sudan, when a hand grenade exploded as children tried to divide it to sell it as waste. On November 11th 2015, three children were killed in Kebbi, north Darfur, western Sudan in a similar accident.

According to Najat Al-Assad, secretary for information and advocacy at NCCW, studies have shown that violence and exploitation experienced by children across the country are mainly caused by household poverty, as children are forced to leave their homes in search of work and to miss school.

Al-Assad said an initiative for social protection aimed at supporting families and setting pro-child budgets where the funds allocated to health and education can produce a healthy and strong generation capable of leading the country in the future.

A similar plan by the council in collaboration with the two Ministries of Health, and of Social Welfare and the relevant authorities in the African Union, to link poverty to both malnutrition and school absence or truancy, in order to remedy them at the same time, was cited by Al-Assad. She said that malnutrition can lead to stunted unhealthy children who create problems that needs to be addressed.

"Children under the age of 18 constitute 48% of Sudan's population, so they are the mainstay of the country, and they must be taken care of," said Al-Assad. She said that the government provides direct financial support to children in orphanages and reform schools as well as to their families.

Journalist and human rights activist Hussein Saad stressed that the issue of child labour in Sudan, which is prohibited by law, will not be resolved until its causes are properly addressed. 

“We have to work towards reducing poverty and ending the war. Besides this, amendments must be made to the flawed Sudanese Child Law, as it does not provide necessary protection for all children," he said.

A report issued by the Central Statistical Organisation in Sudan, a government agency, last year revealed that the poverty rate in the country now stood at 36.1% of the population. But unofficial authorities are sceptical about this figure, as they believe that the majority of Sudan's population is below the poverty line due to the current situation. "The high poverty rate in Sudan is one of the main reasons why children resort to dangerous and marginal occupations,” the report stated.

Most of the children working in marginal and difficult jobs in the capital Khartoum are displaced from war zones in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, after they lost their parents, were stranded and had difficulty earning a living, Saad said. 

"These children were compelled to work to meet their living requirements despite all risks because the government's social protection programmes are extremely weak. The maximum that these programmes do is to offer sums of money that cannot meet even 10% of the daily needs of families, a problem that requires reconsideration to promote effective programmes that support children and their families and eradicate poverty."