Post-Revolution Tunisia Struggles with Child Labour

06/02/2012 - In the aftermath of the Tunisian Revolution, the prevalence of children working in the streets has become a deep concern for child welfare advocates.

Despite its existence prior to the revolution, it has been argued that real statistics have been falsified or obscured during the era of the Ben Ali regime.

The head of a newly-founded non-profit – the Tunisian Association for the Defence of Children’s Rights - Moez El Cherif, a paediatrician, expressed deep concern regarding the future of Tunisia’s street children.

Cherif stated that “In the past, civil society was stifled; children’s rights associations were few, and many of the groups licensed to operate were governmental organizations that were founded to promote a positive facade of a charitable regime. Our association could have never existed in the past, as we would have been obliged to abide by the government’s dictated code – which was mainly about the falsification of data and the embellishment reports covering the issue.”

Tunisia has child protection laws – such as a minimum working age of 16, mandatory medical checkups, and a strict ban on night labour – no one has maintained the responsibility of enforcing these laws.

It was hoped that after the revolution, that enforcement would have been prioritized by government authorities.

Rébah Megudich, the General Director of the Employment Department at the Social Affairs Ministry, believes that Tunisia’s current instability has contributed to the lax enforcement of child labour laws.

He has therefore called upon non-profits and other civil society organizations to lead the charge while the reports are being compiled regarding the extent of child labour. However, Cherif explained that without proper enforcement of Tunisia’s child labour standards the capabilities of non-profits would be limited.

“It is not enough to pass laws that claim to protect the rights of children – it is essential to put them into practice,” said Cherif.

The Tunisian Association of Young Volunteers is such a civil society group of motivated students leading projects to pioneer outreach efforts in a variety of fields. Recently, they began a three-year project that aimed at providing working children with free tutoring.

One member, Sonia Sallemi, explained that “some parents are not convinced of the utility of education. Social and economic constraints compel them to send their children off to work. However, some bright pupils are determined to go attend school and so accept to go to work after classes.”

While the majority of underage workers are male, girls can also be found as child labourers – primarily in domestic and agricultural settings.

Many of the children are also reportedly living outside of the home – either because their parents cannot support them or because of individual psychological or emotional problems.