Working With the Dead to Make a Living: Two Syrian Children Dig Graves for Their Livelihood

By Omar Youssef — Idlib

Ahmed, a 15-year-old child, digging a grave and preparing it to place a body that belongs to a Syrian in Idlib countryside (Al Jazeera)

Syria has become a place where children’s connection to death is closer to that of life. Every morning, 15-year-old Ahmed Al-Jassem and his little brother head towards a remote area in Idlib countryside, northern Syria, carrying with them shovels and digging equipment instead of books and pens like other children their age. The purpose of their daily morning trip is to dig graves — something that Ahmed never imagined having to do to for a living in an area described as the bloodiest and most dangerous place.

Waiting for Death

After choosing the location of the grave, the two children start digging, transferring soil, and measuring a suitable length and width of the grave to fit the dead body. As for the depth, it would be anywhere between one to two and a half meters, which varies according to the request of the family of the deceased. When finished, Ahmed would receive an amount of money ranging between one thousand and three thousand Syrian Pounds, which is approximately five dollars.

Ahmed says to Al Jazeera Net that sometimes his hands tremble when preparing the grave for the dead. But he does not feel intimidated, because the dead cannot move or speak. Instead, you should pray for them, recite al-Fatihah, and water the grave from time to time.

Ahmed digs the grave with a depth of one meter or more, according to the wishes of the family of the deceased (Al Jazeera)

Becoming adults too soon

More than a year ago, Ahmed left his school in Idlib to support his family. “Life is difficult and the burdens of living costs are heavy,” he says.

Ahmed and his little brother spend their day digging graves. Some children roam around them curious by the sight of graves and dead bodies in a country torn by war and military struggles for power.

Idlib looks like a tragicomedy scene where Ahmed’s livelihood increases as the number of civilians killed also increases in areas near the cemetery where he lives. These people drop dead as a result of the vicious bombings by the Syrian regime and the Russian warplanes in opposition-controlled areas.

Going to the cemetery has become a normal daily task as a means for making a living for Ahmed and his companions. (Al Jazeera)

A dream to wake up from the nightmare

The fifteen-year-old hopes to return to school in his village and that the war in Syria will end and the bombing against the civilians will stop. He also hopes that all the displaced people will leave the camps and return to their homes before the coming winter.

Ahmed al-Obaid, a 36 year-old displaced person from Hama countryside has been living in a tent near the cemetery. “Most of the children in these tents are working to help their families. They work hard in arduous jobs as a result of high living costs or because their fathers have died in battles or bombings.”

The displaced young man notes that child labor is a growing phenomenon in most camps for displaced Syrians in the northern region. He adds that some of them sell biscuits while others sell collected cardboard and plastic.

Graves being prepared to receive the dead (Al Jazeera)

On the edges of life

Ahmed’s fate of leaving school for making a living does not belong to him alone, but to more than two million Syrian children. In fact, more than a third of Syrian children are not in school, in addition to a million children who are at risk of dropping out, according to a United Nations report released in August 2019.

The UN report indicates that 40% of school infrastructure in Syria has been damaged or destroyed during the war, while one in eight children in each class needs specialized psychological and social support to achieve effective learning.

According to the UN, more than 83% of Syrians live below the poverty line, which forces children to take extreme measures to survive by resorting to child labor.

Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store