Portraits of child labourers

On the World Day Against Child Labour, child labourers share their stories – and their hopes for the future.

A Rescued Indian bonded child labourer

According to the International Labour Organization’s 2015 report, around 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in child labour around the world – boys and girls in this age group are almost equally affected.

On the World Day Against Child Labour, child labourers from Pakistan, Lebanon, and Sudan share their stories and their hopes for the future with Al Jazeera.

By: Zehra Abid
By: Zehra Abid
Karachi, Pakistan – Sonia is part of Pakistan’s huge informal economy. She works as a maid and nanny, living in her employers’ home in the country’s largest and most populous city, Karachi.

She takes care of the family’s two children from early morning until late at night, but isn’t permitted to eat with them and must sleep on the floor. She is just 10 years old and dreams of one day being able to go to school.

Here is her story:

“I started working seven months ago. It was two days after we moved to Karachi. We used to live in Vehari in Punjab. It’s a small place, and has some roads, although most of them are broken. 

The houses all look the same and they are very small. People are poor in Vehari. It is not like Karachi, where there are so many rich people. The houses here in Karachi are so big.

I started working at a bungalow right after we came. It is my first job. It was difficult at first as I didn’t know anyone, but I soon settled in because of the children.

I take care of two children: Izan, who is one, and Amber, who is around four – the same age as my little sister. They are fun to play with. But I don’t like the cat in their house. It’s a mean cat; she scratches and bites.

If I could have one wish, it would be to go to school


I do all their work. I first wake up at seven in the morning and help them get dressed for school. Then I go with baji [ ‘sister’ in Urdu, it is how Sonia addresses her employer] to drop Amber at school.

I really enjoy dropping her at school. It’s nice to go there. There are lots of kids. It makes me happy. After we drop her, we come back home. That’s when my housework starts.

I first dust everything with a dry cloth. After that, I wipe it all with a damp cloth. Then I sweep the floor and mop it. By this time it’s usually afternoon and time to go pick up Amber from school.

Then we all have lunch. I feed Amber with my own hands – she only eats from my hands. I eat separately and have whatever has been made that day.

Baji takes out the food for me. I never ask for more if I’m hungry. I don’t know how to ask for more. But the food here is better than the food at our house.   

My day ends at around midnight, when Amber goes to sleep.

I am responsible for everything to do with the children. I change their nappies, put them to sleep, I’m responsible for all their work.

Fault Lines: Children at work 

Amber sleeps in her parents’ room and I sleep in another room on the carpet. There is no bed for me.

I get one day off every two weeks, on alternate Sundays. My mother comes to pick me up. That’s when our family is together. My mother is also a maid and my father a security guard at a bank.

I miss my parents when I’m at baji’s house. I can’t call them, but I talk to them when they call on baji’s phone. We are six siblings. Five of us are here in Karachi, but my oldest sister, Safia, is in Punjab. She is married now; I miss her the most.

I also miss my other older sister, Ruqaiyya. She is two or three years older than me and works in another house. I get 4,500 rupees ($45) a month, but she makes around 8,500 ($85). She only works as a maid and doesn’t have to take care of children.

Most people in my family work as maids. I want to grow up to be a doctor. But to become a doctor you have to go to school. I have never been to a school in my life. If I could have one wish, it would be to go to school.”

By: Nour Samaha
By: Nour Samaha

Beirut, Lebanon – Fifteen-year-old Walid* started working as a shoe shiner on the streets of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, two years ago, after he left his village and much of his family in Syria.

A recent report conducted by UNICEF, the International Labour Organization and Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour revealed that there are at least 1,500 children under the age of 16 working on Lebanon’s streets. But the true figure is predicted to be much higher.

Like Walid, the majority of these children are from neighbouring Syria. He has forgotten how to read and write, but hopes one day to be able to go back to school.

Here is his story:

“I left my village near Sweida in Syria two years ago when the situation started to get worse and my father was no longer able to work. My older brother and I came to Beirut and started looking for work in order to provide for our family back at home; my parents and my two younger siblings, who are 10 and 11 years old.

I struggled to find work, and so an older boy took me under his wing and taught me how to shine shoes. A week later I bought my own equipment and started working.

I’ve been arrested three times already.


Before I left Syria I was in school. I wasn’t the smartest at school, but I really enjoyed going, and I really enjoyed studying science.

I had a lot of friends at school, so I had fun. I was learning how to read and write, but now I’ve forgotten it all – the teachers didn’t make that much of an effort to teach us, so now I can’t read or write at all. If I need help with anything I just ask someone to read it for me.

One of the things I really wish for is to go back to school and learn how to do all of these things, but now is really not the time. One day – we’ll see.

My life here is all about work: I wake up at around 8am and start working, usually finishing around 8pm, depending on how much work I was able to get done. On some days I make 30,000 Lebanese pounds ($20), on others 40,000 ($26). Some days it’s less.

I live in Bir Hassan [south of Beirut] with my older brother and my cousin, and our monthly rent is $150. The rest of the money we send back to our parents. I try very hard to avoid the police because I’m not allowed to work here, especially at my age.

I’ve been arrested three times already, but I usually just have to pay a fine and then they let me go. But sometimes they take away my shoe shining box, which means I have to buy a new one every time.

I have some friends here, they are all Syrian. We spend our time talking about football and girls; we’ve never discussed politics – it is not our place to, and we don’t want any problems between us. On weekends I tend to stay at home and watch TV. I’m too tired to do anything else.

Talk to Al Jazeera: Kailash Satyarthi: Saving India’s child slaves

I don’t want to leave the house. I tend to speak to my family once or twice a week on my brother’s mobile phone – I really miss them, and when I miss them a lot I look at their pictures on his phone.

One of the things I miss is my mother’s cooking; here none of us know how to cook, so we just eat sandwiches all the time. I miss the real home-cooked food. One day I really hope to go back to Syria and work with my hands. I’m good with my hands.

I definitely don’t want to keep shining shoes when I’m older. Being in Lebanon can be very hard, and people insult me on the street because I’m Syrian; they tell me to leave and go back to Syria. But other people have also been very kind to me.

Now it is impossible for me to go back because of the new visa restrictions in the country. Before the beginning of the year I would be able to come and go, but now I can’t. I even had to pay my brother’s boss $200 to sponsor me in order to let me stay in the country.”

*Walid is not his real name

By: Durra Gambo
By: Durra Gambo

Khartoum, Sudan – Eleven-year-old Samar started working two years ago in order to help support her family.

At weekends and after school, she takes two buses to reach a park in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where she sells chewing gum to passersby. 

She has big hopes for her future and dreams of becoming a lawyer, but first she must raise enough money to buy the books and uniform that will allow her to return to school next week.

Here is Samar’s story:

“We moved to Omdurman, the largest city in the district of Khartoum two years ago. That is when I started selling chewing gum in the park.

We used to live in El Gezira state in Sudan’s Blue Nile region. But we came to the capital because of my brother’s illness. He has kidney failure and needs the constant monitoring that is available here.

I have no choice; I must continue to work, but I will not stop my studies.


I started selling chewing gum two years ago when we moved here. I make around 15 Sudanese pounds ($2) a day.

During the week I work after I finish school at around 2pm. I usually head home, change my clothes, drop my bags off and then head to work.

I work for three hours a day during the week.

The park where I work is very far from our home. I have to take two different mini buses in order to reach it and spend a quarter of my daily earnings on public transportation.

During the weekends, I start to work at 8am and finish at 6pm.

This week is when Sudanese schools open after the holidays. But I haven’t been able to return as I don’t have enough money to pay for my uniform, books, and school supplies.

It is a public school, but we still have to buy our own supplies.

Not being able to return saddens me a lot, because I really love going to school. I will save the money and I will make it back to school, even if it will take another week.

In Pictures: Child labour endemic around the globe

My mother sells ice cream and my father works in a factory. I have five younger siblings.

When I come to work in the park I prefer to wear a black abaya and scarf to avoid being harassed and groped by older guys.

Sometimes older boys pretend they want to buy gum from me, and instead they start to touch me inappropriately. 

I always avoid selling to guys when they are alone or in a group.

I have no choice; I must continue to work, but I will not stop my studies.

I often meet generous people who pay me double when they realise that I am still in school and want to carry on studying.

I have to support my family; we need the money. I want to help my mother and father.

I miss my life in our village before we moved to the capital. We didn’t have much but I used to play with my friends and cousins.

Now, I don’t have any friends here and I don’t have time to play.

Still, I will continue to work and study. When I grow up I want to become a lawyer. They make good money, they solve people’s problems and they are powerful. One day that will be me.”

Source: Al Jazeera