Social: Poverty in Shirak province hampers struggle against illegal child labor

Social: Poverty in Shirak province hampers struggle against illegal child labor

NAZIK ARMENAKYAN
ArmeniaNow

Poor social and economic conditions in Shirak - Armenia’s most impoverished region – hamper the struggle against child labor. Government officials, representatives of local authorities and regional administrations say efforts against the human rights reality are not effective since the conditions prompting child labor still remain.

Karine Grigoryan, deputy director of Child Day Care Center in Gyumri, says poverty is the major driving force that prompts children to work.

“Hardship forces children to go out to work, and consequently, in case children don’t get a chance to receive education, then tomorrow they will live in poverty anyway,” she said.

According to National Statistics Service figures, Shirak region had the highest unemployment rates last year.

“There is a family that lives on 18,000 drams ($50) a month. They spend this sum in one week and go hungry the rest of the time. We give allowances for children for their transportation costs, but they buy bread with the money. Then they wait until the end of the month and receive money again. A child from this family used to be a beggar before,” Grigoryan said.

Labour market analysis conducted in Armenia last year, shows adolescents aged 15-19 years composed 1.2 per cent of the workforce. In reality, teen employment rates are often hidden.

Hasmik Sargsyan, head of Little Prince Day Care Social Center, says very often while hiring minors they don’t register them legally.

“Since children themselves don’t have sufficient skills and knowledge, they merely become manual workers and mainly wash cars, work as porters in market, or get 1,000 drams ($2.5) a day for opening and closing of mini bus doors and even get involved in agricultural works. Many of them earned a living to help support their families this way,” she said.

The use of child labor is not uncommon in Central Asia. According to a report published by the Open Society Foundations (www.soros.org) in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, despite the end of collective farming and the renewal of private farms, 1.5 to 2 million schoolchildren are sent by central and local governments for 2–3 months every autumn to the fields to pick cotton under hazardous condition. This results in severe injuries to children and deprives them of their right to education. (Read more here: http://www.soros.org/initiatives/cep/events/child-labor-20110120)

Daniel Shahinyan is known all over the Gyumri market. Every day, the teenager with unusually rough hands carries а heavy wheel barrow piled high with various household goods to the market stores.

While talking, Daniel looks away in embarrassment and says he’s 19, but his naive childish eyes give away the truth; he’s younger, perhaps about 15 years old.

“Well, they give me whatever they want, some of them pay 1000 drams, ($2.50) others – 500, ($1.50) but there are people, who don’t give anything. They say they don’t want to pay me and that’s it… What can I say?” says Daniel, shrugging his shoulders while speaking about his work and money he earns.

Daniel has graduated from the Third Specialized (secondary) School in Gyumri and lives with his mother and 14-year-old brother. He says he would never let his younger brother Aram do the same job as he does.

“I do this job and support them. I’m already used to this tough work, so I carry this wheel barrow and suffer. That’s why I won’t let him do the same, because I know what this job is from my own bitter experience,” he said.

Tereza Grigoryan, a senior specialist on social security affairs at Gyumri city hall, says high rates of child labor on illegal and tough conditions are caused by economic hardship which was prompted by the earthquake in 1988 and little has been done to improve the situation since then.
“The pain hasn’t been cured yet. It’s not by chance that we face such problems in our social field, and what’s more, it’s not by accident that Shirak region has the highest child labor rates [in Armenia],” she said.

The state and public sector are trying to offer children working on unequally hard conditions alternative activities in day care centers.

Little Prince Day Care Social Center was established by Caritas, a Vanadzor-based German organization, and now houses 78 children. The center provides basic care for the families of children too.

“At the opening [ceremony] of the center, the ambassador said: ‘Dear officials, we are waiting for your support to open another such center, since you really need day care centers like this, and they need to be funded not only by our government, but by your state as well’,” Hasmik Sargsyan, head of the day care center, recalls.

The state has been planning to set up 25 day care centers since 2005, but so far there are only two such centers, one of them is based in Gyumri, and another one in Yerevan.

“They don’t open such centers, alright… but at least they could provide 10% or 5% joint financing alongside our donors,” she added.

Tamar Chikhinashvili, 13, has been attending Little Prince day care center for 2 years. She comes here every day with her sister after school.

“We stay here till half past five, and so the time that we had to spend at home not knowing what to do, we spend here. I’ve been attending computer classes and studying desk work,” she said.

However, social conditions often win over state and public sector efforts of providing basic care and provision for children in day care centers.

Grigoryan, of the state-funded day care center in Gyumri, says children often choose to go out to work even for a small amount of money.

“The child is forced to do so, notwithstanding the shame. Then they start to feel better, they realize that they help support their families and become independent. We don’t put questions point-blank, and don’t tell them not to work at all, perhaps their families rely on the money they bring home. But at the same time, the work can affect a child’s health, growth and education,” Grigoryan added.
She says child labor is now commonplace.

“When it seems we have already discovered all these children and there aren’t any families of this kind, we suddenly come up against new people. There are different reasons for this – social problems, unemployed parents, or those who are not aware of what their children are doing and simply lack child-rearing skills,” she said.

One hundred and twelve working minors have been registered at Gyumri’s day care center in 2006-2010, with 17 children registered only last year. (These figures are only by the Gyumri Day Care Center, while it is assumed that the number is higher. It is difficult to cite precise figures as children are not registered as workers). Adolescents were mainly involved in construction work, exchange of agricultural products and household goods in villages, seasonal farm work, such as harvesting, weeding, cattle breeding, and also worked as porters in stores, mini bus drivers aides, market sellers.

(This investigation is done with support from the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism /Scoop.)