In a flagrant breach of law and human rights, a number of car workshops in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, are employing children and asking them to do jobs that are often too difficult for them for very little pay, Saudi Arabia-based daily al-Madinah reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper said most of the children are between 12 and 14 years of age and are being paid weekly salaries of SR150 ($40).
Mohammad, a 12-year-old Somalian child, said he works in the car repair workshop from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day without any break.
"If we dare to sit down for a little rest, the owner of the workshop will deduct money from our weekly payment," he said.
"Save us from the dictatorship of the workshop owners," said Ali, a 14-year-old Chadian.
He said he could not have a proper childhood, study or play like other normal children because he had to work to sustain his family.
"What have I done to deserve working in this workshop for long hours without any time to rest?" he asked.
He said local authorities should keep a close watch on the workshop owners due to the many violations they commit.
Jibreil, another Chadian who is also 14, said he did not attend any school because his family did not have a regular iqama (work and residence permit).
"For three years I have been working in various workshops doing difficult jobs because I had no academic future and I wanted to assist my family," he said.
Jibreil said many workshops and factories in the industrial city are full of children, while his father said he is aware of the difficulties his son is going through but he has no other source of income.
Waheed al-Zahrani, a Saudi, said he is sad to see children doing hard jobs in the workshops.
He asked the concerned authorities to launch inspection campaigns against these workshops to save children from slavery.
"The owners of the workshops should be penalized for employing children," he said.
Saleh al-Sulami, another Saudi, said the owners of the workshops are exploiting the poverty of these children and may ask them to do other dirty jobs like drug trafficking or stealing.
"Many of these children have no regular iqamas and may be physically abused without the knowledge of their families or the police," he said.
Abu Ahmed, owner of a workshop, said many children come to him asking for work so he employs them out of compassion.
"We ask the children to do very simple jobs that are not too physically taxing and pay them regular salaries, seeking rewards from Allah," he said.
Siddiq, another workshop owner, said some workshops may ask the children to do work which is beyond their physical prowess while others will have consideration for their young age and ask them to do simple jobs.
"By employing these children, even at low pay, we protect them against going astray," he said.
Suhaila Zain al-Abdeen, a Saudi female human rights activist, warned against employing children and said this is against the law.
She those who employ children should be tracked down and prosecuted. "Some greedy employers will take advantage of the poverty of the children and exploit them," she said.
Al-Abdeen asked the government to take good care of poor children and pay them monthly emoluments to save them from looking for work at an early age and to enable them to live a decent life.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 27, 2014.