Intended for healthcare professionals


Child labour in Arab countries: call for action

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:861
  1. Basema Saddik, lecturer (b.saddik{at},
  2. Iman Nuwayhid, professor
  1. Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, PO Box 170, Lidcombe, NSW 1825, Australia
  2. Department of Environmental Health Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

    EDITOR—A PubMed search not limited by year and using the terms “child labour”, “child labor”, and “working children” found a total of nine peer reviewed studies on working children in Arab countries (Lebanon 3, Jordan 3, Egypt 2, and Morocco 1). Some might attribute this to the seemingly less devastating conditions of child labour in the Middle East and North Africa compared with other developing countries.1 We argue otherwise, using our experience in Lebanon.

    Children in Lebanon and most Arab countries are often employed in small hazardous industries, including artisan production, trades and service, in the agricultural sector, and in homes as domestic helpers. Such workplaces are assumed to be less hazardous to the health of working children than major industries, especially if owned by a family member or a friend. However, children in artisan and mechanics shops work under poor sanitary conditions with almost non-existent engineering or personal protective measures, and suffer from physical strain, long hours of work, low wages, and high exposure to noise and chemicals.2 When their health was compared with that of non-working school children, differences were not striking.3 However, notable differences were identified when subclinical neurotoxic effects of solvents were investigated.45

    Working children in mechanic and artisan shops are exposed to solvents at much higher air concentrations than allowable exposure limits for adults, not accounting for dermal exposure in a population that uses solvents to degrease contaminated hands.2 Compared with schoolchildren and working children not exposed to solvents, working children exposed to solvents performed worse on most neurophysiological and neurobehavioural tests.4 5 Whether these effects are reversible, permanent, or will worsen with further exposure is unknown, as is the long term effect on children's employment and productivity.

    Embedded Image


    The magnitude of hazards to which working children, including those in Arab countries, are exposed must not be underestimated and may increase with the rising political and economic unrest in the region and the violent conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine. We recommend that more studies on child labour be conducted, especially cohort studies on long term health effects and studies on girls.


    • Competing interests None declared.


    1. 1.
    2. 2.
    3. 3.
    4. 4.
    5. 5.
    View Abstract