Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images

Rights group blasts Israeli settlements for Palestinian child labor

Human Rights Watch says illegal settlements exploit children as young as 11 and pay them low wages

A leading international human rights group on Monday accused Israeli settlements in the West Bank of using Palestinian child labor in farming, calling it a violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the settlement farms, most of them in the Jordan Valley, employ children as young as 11, pay them around $19 per day and subject them to dangerous working conditions. In a 74-page report, the New York-based group said hundreds of children work in the settlements, often in high temperatures, carrying heavy loads and exposed to hazardous pesticides.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967 are illegal under international law. While the Jewish-only communities’ existence and continued growth serve as an obstacle to peace, impoverished Palestinians from nearby villages often find employment there in construction and agriculture.

HRW said it interviewed 38 children and 12 adults in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley. According to the report, Palestinian children often drop out of school to pick, clean and pack asparagus, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, onions and dates, among other crops.

The rights group says international law, as well as Israeli and Palestinian law, sets 15 as the minimum age of employment, though many of the children interviewed by the group said they began working at 13 or 14. The “vast majority” of children interviewed told HRW that they had dropped out of school.

“Israel's settlements are profiting from rights abuses against Palestinian children,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Children from communities impoverished by Israel's discrimination and settlement policies are dropping out of school and taking on dangerous work because they feel they have no alternatives, while Israel turns a blind eye.”

All the children interviewed said they were employed through “unwritten agreements” with Palestinian middlemen, meaning that they had no work contracts with the settlers themselves and no paper trail.

When asked why children were dropping out of school to work, a Palestinian middleman who supplied laborers to the settlements told HRW: “Ask [the children] if they have any bread in the house.”

Israel's Foreign Ministry said the report was being studied and that a formal reaction is forthcoming.

But David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council, rejected the findings, claiming the alleged accounts were fraudulent. He said the council employs 6,000 Palestinians every day, but no minors.

“It is a horrific lie,” Elhayani told Israel's Army Radio. “There is no justification for employing children, not just morally and legally but financially as well.”

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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