Omar’s heart sinks when he trudges past his closed school gates in the Jordanian capital Amman — now part of his trip to work, to repair and clean kerosene heaters.
The 14-year-old, who dreams of becoming a pilot, is one of many minors experts say have been forced prematurely into the labour market.
Schools throughout Jordan have been closed for nearly a year now, and the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic has eaten into breadwinners’ ability to feed their families.
“As school is shut, I help my family financially,” said Omar, sporting a sweater and dirty jeans as he cleaned a heater with his blackened hands.
He works exhausting 12-hour days at the workshop, and collapses into bed after a shower and a quick evening meal.
Overall, the work “doesn’t bother me”, he said.
“What is unbearable is the smell of kerosene...(it) doesn’t go away.” He earns three dinars (around $4.25) a day, which helps pay the family’s monthly rent of 130 dinars. His contribution is vital because his father, a day labourer, has struggled to find work due to the coronavirus downturn. But Omar has not given up hope, and said he was determined to return to school as soon as possible. “I would love to continue my studies” and eventually become a pilot, he said. “I don’t want the coronavirus to destroy my dream.”
The education ministry has announced a return to classes next month for kindergarten and some elementary school levels, as well for students in their final year of high school.
Everyone else will have to wait until March.
UN children’s agency Unicef said that while it had no hard statistics, it believed many Jordanian children had been forced into precarious work since the pandemic began — despite it being forbidden to employ those under 16.
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