Deteriorating living conditions in Idlib, as well as across the entire Syrian geography, have forced many children into work to earn their living and to help their families. Despite the cold weather, many children are seen selling products, such as paper handkerchief and biscuits, on the streets, in light of the current inflation and unaffordable prices of essential products, especially since most of these children have no breadwinner to rely on for financial support.
Recently, the prevalence of children who entreat car owners and passers-by to buy their products has turned into a worrying phenomenon which is more akin to begging and can be seen almost everywhere in Idlib city and surrounding towns. The most prominent factors that have given rise to this phenomenon are mass civilian displacement and extreme poverty of many families.
In a short interview with SOHR, a 13-year-old child known by his initials as H. M. who roams the streets of Deir Hassan area in the northern countryside of Idlib selling paper handkerchief and coffee, says “I have been displaced with my mother and my sister, who is two years younger than me, from the southern countryside of Aleppo to Idlib since 2019. Since my father was killed, I have been forced to work to secure bread and basic essentials for my family. I roam several streets every day, where I entreat drivers and passers-by to buy my paper handkerchief. I started to sell coffee since the beginning of winter, and sometimes, I sell other products. I may get 10 to 25 TL a day, according to the number of products I sell. It is really hard work. I am often exposed to harassment, as some people humiliate and abuse me, thinking that I am a beggar, but I am just trying to earn my living. The reasons that make people think that I am a beggar is the way I entreat drivers and passers-by to buy my products in streets and markets. I hope that I will get a good job. I also wish to return to my area and be able to resume my education and secure the needs of my family who have already been grappling with dire living conditions.”
Speaking to SOHR, an activist known as M. A. has confirmed that “there are many methods of begging which have become familiar in the recent time. One of these methods is blocking the way of passers-by by people, who follow this method, mainly children, in the streets and entreating them to buy their products. Relevant authorities of the ‘Salvation Government’ and humanitarian organisations have to find a workable solution to put an end to this phenomenon by providing decent standards of living for these children. ‘Digital begging’ is another phenomenon that has prevailed in the region, as some people film short video clips showing disastrous situation in refugee camps that have been hard hit with heavy rain, storms and floods and post these video clips on social media, especially TikTok, to draw sympathy and financial aid. Sometimes, people deliberately film children’s sad and depressed faces in order to get more assistant by donors.”
Commenting on the reasons behind the work of children, the activist says, “there are many factors which have led to the prevalence of this phenomenon, including the fact that most of these children have been forced to displace and many of them have lost their breadwinners, as well as the astronomically inflated prices and indifference by authorities responsible for children’s affairs. Children selling various products by entreating passers-by and attempting to gain their sympathy until they accept to buy these products are found in every town across Idlib province. There are some children who follow such practices to make more money for their families or gangs they are working for. However, most of these children are struggling with extreme poverty. It is difficult to distinguish between the children who really need money and the other ‘greedy’ children. More attention has to be paid to this phenomenon especially by organisations concerned with children’s welfare. The latest civilian mass exodus in 2019 and 2020, which was the largest ever since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution, has forced many children to drop out of school and work in many crafts for low wages.”
The residents of Idlib city and countryside see that begging by children is the “bitterest and saddest” phenomenon in the region, as it is an obvious evidence that Syrian children have had the largest share of tragedy and misery caused by a protracted war which has been raging for over a decade now.
Another displaced man, known by hid initials as M. M. from Jabal Shashaboo area in the western countryside of Hama and now living in Kafr Takharim town in the northern countryside of Idlib, told SOHR, “these children have had nothing to do but begging to earn a living. Most families in refugee camps have no source of income, so they force children and women to work to secure their families’ needs in light of the prohibitively high prices and suspension of aid and support by organisations operating in the region. Moreover, schools have been turned into investment projects, as schools that provides free services lack basic standards of education, while families care only about earning their living and pay little attention to their children’s education or degrees. If relevant authorities, including the ‘Salvation Government’ and humanitarian organizations, had supported and cared about the inhabitants of refugee camps, the situation in these camps would not have been that bad. A solution should be reached to put an end to this phenomenon by securing job opportunities, helping families who have no breadwinners to start small projects enabling them to earn their living, providing appropriate standards of education, rehabilitating homeless children and improving their living situation as possible.”
It is worth noting that Idlib city and its countryside have experienced disastrous living conditions since the beginning of winter, as well as ongoing freefall of the Turkish Lira against US dollar, inflation, imposition of additional taxes and ongoing repression by the “Salvation Government,” the executive wing in HTS-held areas.