Israeli settlement farms in the West Bank are using Palestinian child labor to grow, harvest, and pack agricultural produce, much of it for export, Human Rights Watch said in a report. The farms pay the children low wages and subject them to dangerous working conditions in violation of international standards.
The 74-page report, “Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank,” documents that children as young as 11 work on some settlement farms, often in high temperatures. The children carry heavy loads, are exposed to hazardous pesticides, and in some cases have to pay themselves for medical treatment for work-related injuries or illness.
The children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had suffered nausea and dizziness. Some said they had passed out while working in summer temperatures that frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius outdoors, and are even higher inside the greenhouses in which many children work. Other children said they had experienced vomiting, breathing difficulties, sore eyes, and skin rashes after spraying or being exposed to pesticides, including inside enclosed spaces. Some complained of back pain after carrying heavy boxes filled with produce or “backpack” containers of pesticide.
Israeli labor laws prohibit youth from carrying heavy loads, working in high temperatures, and working with hazardous pesticides, but Israel has not applied these laws to protect Palestinian children working in its settlements. Israeli authorities rarely inspect working conditions for Palestinians on Israeli settlement farms. The Israeli Defense, Economy, and Labor Ministries all say that they are studying how to apply more labor protections for Palestinians working in settlements, but that in the meantime no authority has a clear mandate to enforce regulations.
Of the children interviewed for the report, 33 had dropped out of school and were working full-time on Israeli settlements. Of these, 21 had dropped out before completing the 10 years of basic education that are compulsory under Palestinian as well as Israeli laws.
“So what if you get an education, you’ll wind up working for the settlements,” one child said.
Teachers and principals at Palestinian schools in the Jordan Valley said that children who worked part-time on settlements during weekends and after school were often exhausted in class.
Israeli military authorities state that they do not issue work permits for Palestinians under 18 to work in settlements. However, Palestinians do not need Israeli work permits to reach the settlement farms, which are outside the gated areas of settlements that Palestinians need permits to enter.
All of the children and adults working for the settlement farms whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were hired by Palestinian middlemen working for Israeli settlers, were paid in cash, and did not receive pay-slips or have work contracts. Israel denies Palestinian authorities jurisdiction in the settlements as well as much of the Jordan Valley, but they should do more to enforce laws against child labor by prosecuting middlemen, Human Rights Watch said. – Full report –