And between March 2010 and October 2011, 28 children have been shot at along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza strip while gathering building materials or working by the fence. These are the findings of the Palestine Section of Defence for Children International (DCI), a non-governmental child rights organisation and member of the International General Assembly of DCI. DCI-Palestine was established in 1992 and works towards the vision of creating “a Palestinian community fit for all children”.
The organisation’s latest report – ‘Children of Gravel’ – is designed to highlight the risks faced by children as they work along the border fence. Along this defensive strip, it is common for Israeli soldiers to fire warning shots at workers and children are among those shot at. Most are sent to the border to work in order to support their families. Many go to gather building materials such as gravel. Israeli restrictions limit the amount of construction material which enters Gaza. Therefore children can earn up to 14 dollars a day by collecting gravel and selling it to builders for use in concrete.
A 2011 report by UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinian refugees) concluded that during the first half of the year, there had been some positive developments in job creation, employment, private-sector growth and wages. However, despite these developments, Gaza’s economy remained “dismal” and the region continued to have one of the world’s highest unemployment rates. Poverty rates among the population therefore remain high. According to Oxfam, 1.1 million of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents receive food aid. In the border area of the North Gaza governorate, food insecurity is at its highest among the occupied Palestinian territories, with nearly two-fifths of Gazans here unemployed. While employment opportunities in the area remain so low, youngsters will therefore continue to brave the dangers of working along the border area to earn vital extra money for their families.
With tensions continuing to run high in the region, young Palestinians also frequently engage in acts of defiance which bring them into conflict with the Israeli military. DCI monitors the number of Palestinian child detainees within the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). As a result of the recent prisoner exchange, 55 children between the ages of 14 and 17 years were released this month by the IPS. However, according to DCI figures, this leaves 106 Palestinian children in custody. The organisation continues to express its concerns about the treatment of children during their arrest and within Israeli prisons. And it continues to lobby for an end to child prosecutions by military courts (which are not used for Israeli children). In a recent Parliamentary debate in the UK, the British MP Richard Burden, who had witnessed “14-year old boys...wearing leg-irons and handcuffs for their court hearings” also called on the ending of practices such as shackling children and interrogations without a parent or lawyer present, saying “it is against the UN convention on the rights of the child and it is inhuman”.