According to an investigation by the Ma’an News Agency in Gaza, the illegal use of child labor has become commonplace in the Gaza Strip, where the lack of an export economy due to the Israeli siege has led families to send their children to bomb sites to collect scrap metal for money.Despite the illegality of child labor, the practice is widespread due to the complete breakdown of the Gazan economy over the last four years. It is particularly common in families whose male head of household was killed by Israeli forces, as many of those families have no other wage earners.

Even in families that have a male head of household, work has become incredibly scarce, and families search desperately for any means to make a little money. Due to the imposition of the Israeli siege in 2007, the Gaza Strip has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and a child poverty rate nearing 40%.

According to the Ma’an report, children are often found running into recently-bombed areas to try to find scrap iron that they can sell to metal merchants who then recycle the metal. The recycled metal loses much of its strength, and is not as strong for construction as new metal.

One child that Ma’an correspondents spoke with said, “My father sent me to collect iron. My friend and I go out in the morning to collect all the iron we can and we sell it to a merchant for 15-20 shekels ($4-5).” The child described trying to pull out metal that had been lodged in the ground, sometimes injuring himself or others.

The Palestinian Authority in Gaza said that while it has tried to enforce the ban on child labor, the economy is so depressed and people so desperate that the problem is more widespread than their resources allow.