Syria's Child Truck Drivers: a Necessity in a Vacuum

Wednesday 14 March 201808:08 pm
Khaled is yet to turn 14 but has already been driving his father's water truck for two years in the city of Idlib, with many adolescents increasingly getting behind the wheel in war torn Syria. As a youngster driving prematurely, Khaled felt that his job was met with astonishment and resentment from pedestrians and neighbors at least initially. Some people spoke with his father about his driving, others rebuked him for allowing him to get behind the wheel. "But he didn't care about them," said Khaled, who once in a while helps his father transport water to nearby houses. "He wanted to teach me the profession of driving at an early age so I can secure my bread and butter in the future, my brothers envy me for my skills at driving my dad's water truck." Although a lot of people might not find it acceptable, many children drive in different areas in Syria amid the absence of the rule of law, Khaled stressed. "It's no longer an astounding phenomenon," he said. "I'm not the only child who drives a truck in the city; there are many children who drive cars and motorcycles, with their parents consent." Khaled believes that driving can be taught at any age:  "My driving is better than my father's. I excel at driving, I love it. However, my small size makes me unable to see the street clearly, which urges me to put pillows underneath me most of the time. I eat a lot of eggs and drink milk to get taller quickly and solve this problem.

Mixed Reactions

The spread of underage drivers has not been well received by the public. Om Mohamed in Al-Dana town, situated in Idlib's countryside, is one of the staunch critics of underage drivers. "How can a child whose foot cannot reach the breaks drive a big truck or a tractor?" the woman told Raseef22. "My heart shakes every time I see a child driving a car." She believes that allowing children to drive is a crime, saying they belong in schools or recreational areas, but certainly not in the driver seat. Om Mohamed said children drive in both urban and rural areas. "We have to fight this phenomenon… being silent means it will keep spreading." Mohamed Agha from Idlib is flabbergasted at what he describes as a backlash against minors' driving, which he deems a personal freedom. Teenagers who are 14 or older can give a hand to their parents if they are mature enough to drive responsibly, Agha opined.

Lack of Law and Order

Driving by minors has increased of late amid acceptance and refusal from the society, said Mahmoud Ranah, former member of Idlib's local council. He said that people had filed complaints at the local council and makeshift police against underage drivers, calling for action to be taken against parents who allow their children to drive. There is no law that penalizes under-18 drivers, Ranah explained, adding that they could only be punished when an accident takes place. "Many laws need to be amended," he said, adding that driving by minors will not be deterred except by taking decisive measures, including fines and jail terms. "In my opinion, a child cannot drive without causing accidents or troubles," Ranah said. "I eat a lot of eggs and drink milk to get taller quickly and get rid of the pillows underneath me while driving the truck"            

Less Common in Regime-Controlled Areas

Locals of Idlib agree that underage driving is less common in areas that are still controlled by the regime, given that laws prohibiting children and adolescents from issuing driving licenses before the age of 18 are enforced. But since teenagers can get licenses to ride motorcycles at 17, there were calls to reduce the minimum age of driving to below 18, with the premise that driving is less dangerous than riding bikes. According to legal advisor Mahmoud Hemdan, the majority of countries ban individuals who are under 18 from driving. "Children and teenagers do not know the rules of safe driving," he told Raseef22. "They drive for fun or to seek attention." Hemdan says not only are children vulnerable to accidents while driving, but also to kidnapping, saying a child is defenseless while being alone in a vehicle. He has stressed that parents and authorities have to exert efforts to prohibit minors from driving in a war torn society.
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