November 3, 2010 - 12:00am

Standing under the sun in a dusty street, Ahmed Al-Massri looks older than 13, his age. As he sees a car parking in Gaza City's upper neighborhood, he rushes to offer cleaning its windows.

A Palestinian woman, looking wealthy, nodded and handed over the young boy some tips, asking him to go home instead of " wandering in the streets." The boy put the money in his tiny pocket, and thanked the lady, telling her that he only wanted "to work to earn my living, not to beg."

An Israeli siege, tightened in 2007 but started to lift in June, took a heavy toll on the occupied territories' economy, as one of the results children labor in resent years has spread in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza.

Al-Massri is doing his job in a busy street away from the blockade's scenes, unlike Samah Afana, a 10-year-old girl said the sanctions helped her find new places to work. Every morning, Samah walks to the border area to collect gravel before joining her colleagues to the school. "I know it is little money," Samah said, referring to the two Shekels (nearly half U.S. dollar) she earns per sack of gravel she collects. "My father can not afford me and my brothers to buy anything at school."

It takes her almost one hour to fill a bucket with sand and gravel every morning. She looks satisfied with what she gets. "Two Shekels are a worthy fortune to me."

Samah and dozens of other workers, mostly the young, dig for gravel in former Jewish settlements that Israel evacuated in 2005, which is situated hundreds of meters away from the borderline.

The boys and girls usually sell those materials to construction contractors or to local people who want to mend their houses. Thousands of houses were partially damaged during Israel's assault on the strip in December 2008.

In the southern end of the Gaza Strip, especially in Rafah town, children can find work though there were no settlements and the city doesn't border Israel.

Not less than ten boys of different ages were seen standing in a queue, waiting for their turn to go in underground tunnels to lift goods smuggled from Egypt or offer help to their employers.

The 17-year-old Samir al-Shaer, whose father was killed during the war in Gaza, is now shoulder responsibilities to provide his sick mother and younger brothers with their needs. "I used to dream to be a doctor one day. How can I imagine that I would leave school and support my family so early," Shaer said sadly.

The Palestinian labor law bans the employment of children under 15. It also calls for maintaining the rights of the youths. However, poverty, siege, traditions, political split make the law invalid.

Prior to the eruption of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in 2000, there were 30,000 working children. Today, the number stands at 50,000, according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Several workshops have been held recently in different Gaza areas to discuss the phenomenon. Participants in the workshops unanimously admitted that there is no magic solution to this problem, and called on the Palestinian authorities to cooperate with the non-governmental organizations in the strip to address it, which alerts for consecutive illiteracy and weak Palestinian generations.


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