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Passing down skills sans compromising education a balancing act for tourism-dependent communities

By Rayya Al Muheisen - Oct 03,2023 - Last updated at Oct 03,2023

Child labour can be a deeply ingrained tradition in some rural areas like Wadi Rum as many families view child labour as a way of passing down skills or as a rite of passage (Photo by Rayya Al Muheisen)

WADI RUM — Child labour can be a deeply ingrained tradition in some rural areas like Wadi Rum as many families view child labour as a way of passing down skills or as a rite of passage. 

Yousef, a 12-year-old from Wadi Rum, is a child of the desert. He comes from a family that has been involved in the tourism industry for generations and speaks four languages fluently. 

His parents, like many others in the region, rely on income generated from guiding tourists, offering rides and organising desert camps. From a very young age, Yousef has been exposed to the tourism business, learning skills from his family members.

Despite his responsibilities in helping out at one of the camp sites, Yousef’s parents are equally committed to ensuring he receives an education. 

“I love my job as a tourism guide, but I don’t skip a day at school. I like my job because I want to be able to communicate with people from different countries,” Yousef told The Jordan Times.

Yousef’s story is both inspiring and challenging, shedding light on the delicate balance between a traditional way of life and the need for education. While he’s gaining invaluable skills in tourism that can be a source of income in the future, many view his job as robbing him of his childhood through child labour.

Mohammad Al Zyoud, the Ministry of Labour’s spokesperson, told The Jordan Times that the ministry dealt with 371 reported cases of child labour in the first eight months of 2023. 

The cases comprise a total of 245 Jordanians including 10 females, along with 110 Syrians, seven Pakistanis, and six Egyptians,  Zyoud said. 

“The ministry is working diligently to address this issue, conducting inspections and issuing warnings and penalties to non-compliant employers,” Zyoud added.

However, experts say that in places where tourism is deeply intertwined with local culture and livelihoods, the issue becomes complex.

Economist Khaled Salameh told The Jordan Times that in areas heavily reliant on tourism, like Wadi Rum and Petra, the line between child labour and securing a future for their children and passing traditions differs. 

“The transmission of skills and traditions from one generation to the next is a valued aspect of many societies, where it becomes essential to differentiate between exploitative child labour and culturally significant learning experiences,” Salameh added. 

Salameh said that sustainable tourism initiatives can help families like Yousef’s find a balance between preserving their traditions and providing quality education for their children.

However, local communities should be supported with vocational training and opportunities to diversify their income streams, Salameh said. 

Child psychologist Abeer Ne’meh told The Jordan Times that striking a balance between protecting children from harmful labour practices and respecting cultural values is a challenge. 

“Child labour might not necessarily be detrimental if it aligns with a community’s way of life and does not compromise a child’s education and well-being,” Ne’meh said. 


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