Investigations | 10 Jan 2015

The scene of the two brothers, Haitham and Mohammed, competing over mixing cement components, represents a far cry from any normal competition between two other children of their age. They are neither school afficionados or goers, nor are they big on PlayStations like other children: Their fiercest competition is embodied in whoever is capable of carrying the heavier bucket of cement.

The two brothers, fleeing with their parents from Homs to the safety of Wadi al-Nasara [Valley of the Christians—or al-Nadara, or "freshness" as officially named by the regime], away from the fighting; leaving school and joing a construction site.

The eight-year Haitham says: "I only wish my father would give me 15 Syrian Pounds today... I am exhausyed, and my hands are sore!" At which point Mohammed, three years his senior, exclaims: "15 Syrian Pounds.!! When I was your age, the most I ever got was 10 [Syrian] Pounds!!"

The Father: "Who Needs Education?"

Ayman, the children's father, works in the field of construction. He is constantly going in and out construction sites, as he is the lowest paid among all other construction workers in the entire area.

The man housed his family in an unfinished building, whose sides are open to the elements. Being a builder, he blocked the sides off using bricks, to attempt a form of insulation from the wind coming from both east and west, in the winter.

When questioned by Rozana on the reason for not sending his children to school, he replies: "Why should they go? It is better for them to come help their father... The daily pay for a worker is 1,000 [Syrian] Pounds!" He is certain that his children are not made for education, adding: "They would never have become educated people, anyway."

Despite the significant difference between the lives of these two children and those of any other child in the area in which they live; their innocence is ossifying day after day, much like the walls they are helping construct.

They spend their days on the empty construction site, and the break bell chimes with their father's request: "Go and prepare us some tea!" That is when the happy adventure starts—with Mohammad gathering firewood to be broken, while Haitham prepares the ashen little teapot , and clears a place for the little fire.

Says Haitham: "I love school, but I am old for it, now... My brother Ahd is still young; he's only 6 years old. He goes to school in the winter, and joins us in the summer and holidays."

A Hookah Professional who Loves Motorcycles!

Alaa is another child crushed by the war raging in Syria. His family and he were displaced from their al-Midan district in Aleppo to the town of al-Mazyaneh in Wadi al-Nasara, where his brother and he work as "hookah boys" in he town's restaurants.

As soon as you take your seat in the restaurant, the ten-year old Alaa jumps next to you asking "Do you want a hookah, mate?" within mere minutes Alaa expertly hands you your hookah pipe, and helps ignite its head. Then, with a subtle smile, he says: "Is there anything else you need, mouallem [master]?" Referring to his bakshish [tip]usually paid by a customer, upon prompt service and a tasty hookah pipe.

Alaa does not attend school, and says intermittently in his thick Aleppo accent: "I don't like it [school]. I make money here and smoke a hookah... Back there [school], there's none of that."

The danger to Alaa is not limited to the fever of closed restaurants, through which he moves to light up hookahs and smoked cigarettes with friends. The ten year-old, loves riding motorcycles "more than anything else," as he puts it.

Munir, Alaa's neighbor, says: "Abu Alaa [Alaa's father] is not doing bad financially... As a matter of fact, he is doing rather well. What is it that drives him to force his children to work in places not fit for adults—let alone children!?"

With the Onset of Winter!

The ongoing war in Syria has landed upon most cities and towns, destroying them and displacing their people. Children were the most affected and vulnerable segment of the population, with millions facing a very harsh winter this year, according to UNICEF.

On the International Day for Children's Rights, humanitarian organizations and the world talked about Syrian children, wished them warmth, donated to camp children, and emphasized their right to education and living in safety. Herein lies the irony, in the eyes of Munir, who says: "The situation of children like Mohamed, Haitham, and Alaa, would not have been as bad as that of poor children in the camps; were it not for the intransigence and ignorance of parents, harsher towards their own children than even the Syrian war itself."

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