From Refugee to Sweatshop Labourer for Syria’s Children

Over the last few months, reports have been surfacing regarding a new plight facing Syrian refugees.

SEAMSTER: Muhamed Awwal, a 13-year-old from Syria, works in his father's basement factory in Istanbul. Around 665,000 school-age Syrian children who live in Turkey are not in school. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

SEAMSTER: Muhamed Awwal, a 13-year-old from Syria, works in his father’s basement factory in Istanbul. Around 665,000 school-age Syrian children who live in Turkey are not in school. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

With no permanent working status made available to their families, many Syrian refugee children in Turkey are clandestinely working as textile employees to support their relatives. An article by CBS written on May 10th, 2016, opens as such: “In a textile factory in Istanbul, workers toil over sewing machines. But look closely, because the workers are children.” In the margin of the article, you can see a gripping video of tiny bodies sitting at a too-big desk, of small hands moving under a sewing machine.

According to BBC, as many as half of a million Syrian refugees in Turkey are not attending school, leaving them open to sweatshop labour and other forms of abuse. To put this statistic into perspective, in Toronto in 2011, there were 400,865 children ages 0-14 in 2011. Essentially, a whole cityscape of children has been removed from formal education.

IGNORED: Rights groups say Syrian refugee boys like these, working at a small textile factory in Gaziantep, are overlooked in the EU-Turkey deal. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

IGNORED: Rights groups say Syrian refugee boys like these, working at a small textile factory in Gaziantep, are overlooked in the EU-Turkey deal. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

When the concept of childhood began to emerge in Europe during the 17th century, John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding contributed to the idea of children being blank slates upon birth, ready to be imprinted with knowledge through exposure of information. More contemporarily, the 20th century saw the rise of Albert Bandura’s “social learning theory,” suggesting that children learn new behaviours by observing and interacting with other people. One of the great tragedies of war is the disruption of this time of learning and growth. To be displaced by war as a child is to be removed from childhood itself. Upon watching CBS’s video of small Syrian children working in a sweatshop, one question persistently raises its head: why are the preliminary years of life regarded as sacred for some children but dispensable for others? Where did these two opposing concepts of childhood, either as a time for learning or a time for performing cheap labour, originate? Why does empathy stop short at the clothing store, where tangible proof of children’s exploitation lies before us?

Photographs By Jodi Hilton On The Turkish-Syrian Border

Photographs By Jodi Hilton On The Turkish-Syrian Border

Unfortunately, there is little we can do, sitting in our homes, to stop the larger socio-political forces of the world, which lead to childhood becoming a casualty of war. However, being conscious of our spending habits can, at the very least, prevent our complacency and apathy to the exploitation of children like thirteen-year-old Hamaz in Turkey. Pictures of a small boy with dark brown hair featured on the Guardian reveals the face behind the labour force at a shoe factory. He reportedly works twelve hour days, six days a week on an assembly line, making a daily wage of fewer than ten dollars. He mentions that he would love to go back to school, to read and write, but cannot, because he must support his family.

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About the Author

Sharon Kashani is a Masters of Arts in English Literature recipient from the University of Toronto. Upon applying for graduate school, Sharon was honoured to receive the major federal award for humanities doctoral programs in Canada, The Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS-SSHRC Masters Scholarship. Her SSHRC proposal, entitled Gender and Sexuality in Novelistic Works, described a project that aimed to chart the subversive tendencies of women writers through their depictions of sexuality and gender in novels. Most recently, Sharon has completed her Masters and is excited to now be writing for Trusted Clothes.

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