Saturday 6 September 2008 (06 Ramadan 1429) Child labor becoming a problem in Saudi Arabia M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan I Arab News RIYADH: Child labor is becoming a problem in Saudi Arabia, where nearly 1.54 percent of the child population works, a study said. The study, first of its kind in the Kingdom, commissioned by King Abdul Aziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) and conducted by Dr. Mohammad Abdullah Al-Naji, put the Eastern Province on top of the list at 2.3 percent followed by Makkah, Madinah, Asir and Riyadh. Economic issues are the primary driving factors behind child labor, followed by other factors that include dropping out of school and domestic compulsions, the study said. Some 2,000 Saudi children included in the study were either interviewed by Naji himself or asked to fill out questionnaires prepared as part of the national survey. According to the International Labor Organization, education is crucial for breaking the child labor cycle and eradicating it by 2016. The study attributed lack of education to be the prime factor behind child labor among certain segments of Saudi population. In case of foreigners, especially African expatriates, poverty has been identified as the major cause of child labor. Children, according to the study, "are mostly employed in the business sector followed by agriculture." Naji wrote in his concluding remarks that Saudi Arabia has enacted a number of laws on child labor, including setting the minimum employment age at 13 in all fields, with the exception of family businesses and domestic labor, as well as animal herding and some agricultural jobs. According to another study conducted by Saud-Al Shahri, a Saudi social worker, there are more than 83,000 homeless children in the Kingdom. "Nearly 69 percent of child beggars in Riyadh are Saudis," said the study, adding that about 88 percent of mothers of child beggars are illiterate and only nine percent of them hold an elementary school certificate. Naji, in his study, has also drawn attention to Article 32 of the Children's Rights Act that stipulates a six-hour working day, with time off for rest. It also says that children are not to work for five hours straight or at night. Furthermore, the employment of children in strenuous or hazardous jobs is prohibited, and child labor in general should be voluntary, not compulsory. The law also says a child's work should not interfere with his or her schooling or be harmful to the child's health, either physically, mentally, spiritually, morally or socially.