Syrian children flee ISIS for sweatshops in Turkey

Syrian boy in Turkeysweatsho
A small boy makes shoes in the factory. Photograph: Ahmed Deeb

Syrian refugees have been flooding into Turkey, but what do they do when they make it there? Some work in apparel factories.

“He can make 400 shoes a day. He’s a real man.”

That quote is from the manager at a shoe factory about his 13-year-old Syrian worker. According to the story in the Guardian, more than ⅓ of the workers at the factory were Syrian children.

From the article:

According to Unicef, more than half of Turkey’s 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees are children – and nearly 80% of them are not in school. Across the wider region, Unicef estimates that half of school-age Syrians – 2.8 million children – have no means of accessing education.

The 13-year-old man in the story is a boy named Hamza. War makes men out of boys and unfortunately this is the case for Hamza:

“Hamza’s life is a good example of why this is all happening. Two years ago, his father was reportedly beheaded by Isis fighters in northern Syria, so his family fled to Turkey. There, his mother works as a housekeeper for the family’s elderly landlords, in exchange for a lower rent. But with Hamza’s father dead, the family has no other means of earning a money. So to put food on the table, he and his younger brothers, Tarek and Hammouda, work in this local shoe factory. Their daily wage is less than $10 – lower than the retail price of every pair of shoes they make.

“I would love to go to school, I miss reading and writing,” says Hamza. “But if I go to school, nobody is going to bring food to my home.”

There are realities in this world too harsh for many of us to process. We don’t want kids making our clothes or shoes or farming our cocoa, but many kids do exactly this. Calls for banning child labor in these industries are often nothing more than proof of our naivete and our inability to understand the realities faced by many. Child labor is a symptom of war, poverty, no access to education, and the extreme lack of opportunities that exist for many people around the world.

The Syrian children and their parents are desperate and desperate people are easy to exploit.  Even though working in a factory might be a kid’s best opportunity that doesn’t make it right. Many of these kids report sexual, physical, and verbal abuse.

I have no idea of what will come of Hamza and the thousands of other children like him. I have no idea how anything about this situation can be fixed. But I do know that we live in a complex world and it is our duty as glocals to recognize that complexity and that this exists…

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