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Queen Rania, UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children, shares Morocco’s successes
Accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, Queen Rania – in her capacity as UNICEF’s first Eminent Advocate for Children – visited the Fkih Mohamed Tahiri School in Fez, which offers former child labourers the opportunity to acquire formal education and to integrate with other children.
The school is part of a model programme initiated by Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem, President of the National Observatory for Children’s Rights (ONDE). Known as the Prevention and Elimination of Child Labour Programme, it is supported by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and UNICEF.
From carpet weaver to schoolgirl
Former carpet weaver Khadija, 10, has been attending the school in Fez for the past three years.
“I like school and I am very glad to have left the workshop, where I worked more than 11 hours a day,” she said. “Our maalma [supervisor] struck me with a stick every time she noticed that I was slow.”
Like the majority of girls her age employed in carpet weaving, Khadija was paid $8 per month for making a large carpet with the help of seven other girls.
Providing non-formal education
The child labour programme has transformed Khadija’s life and those of 700 other children under the age of 12 in Fez. But not every Moroccan child has had the same chance. Hundreds of thousands of children continue to be exploited in the informal sector. According to figures from the 2000 national employment survey, 11 per cent of children between the ages of 7 and 14 work. This translates into 600,000 children, more than half of whom have never gone to school.
Following their stop at the Fkih Mohamed Tahiri School, the Queen and Princess Lalla Salma visited the Red Crescent Centre for non-formal education – another programme supported by IPEC and UNICEF – which serves girls over 12 who are employed.
Fadila, 15, joined the Red Crescent Centre three years ago. “I started weaving carpets when I was seven years old,” she said. “I have seven brothers and sisters who still work.” Fadila’s supervisor allows her to come to the non-formal education centre twice a week. Rubbing her work-roughened hands, she proudly said that she can now write and read Arabic and French.
Over 1,300 children reached
The Prevention and Elimination of Child Labour Programme in Fez was established as a result of studies conducted in 1997 in cooperation with the Moroccan League for Child Protection, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF.
ONDE and the Wilaya (an administrative regional structure) supported UNICEF Morocco – in collaboration with the Delegation of the Ministry of Handcrafts and Tourism – developing a plan of action to convince professional associations, employers and families to withdraw children below the age of 12 from work. The plan aimed, as well, to stop the recruitment of children by employers and allow those 12 and over to both earn and learn.
Other key partners included the Ministries of Health, Education and Labour, civil society organizations and children themselves.
In 2002, a multi-sector committee was formed to further develop the plan. In 2003, the International Labour Organization/IPEC signed on. In its first five years, the child labour programme has reached a total of 1,313 children.
Combating poverty and exclusion
In recent years, the government and civil society in Morocco have taken several other measures to combat child labour, including the harmonization of national legislation with international norms and standards. The new labour code forbids employment of children under 15 and strengthens sanctions against those who employ children, while the penal code introduces new sanction against child exploitation.
The silence surrounding the issue of girls employed as domestic workers was broken in 2001, thanks to a public awareness campaign launched under the patronage of Princess Lalla Meryem. A law prohibiting the use of young maids under 15 is now being considered, and several agreements between ONDE and public and private partners offer income-generating activities to reward families who withdrew their daughters from domestic labour.
Later in her visit today, Queen Rania saw yet another project focused on combating poverty and social and economic exclusion – the Mohamed V Foundation for Solidarity, established in 1999 by His Majesty King Mohamed VI. At a model education centre for underprivileged young girls, Dar Al Fatat, she was introduced to the mission of the foundation.
Queen Rania also visited a student hostel, Dar Taliba, which benefits from Mohamed V Foundation funding. The hostel focuses on supporting secondary and university female students from rural areas who would otherwise be unable to complete their education.