Driving cars helps children grow up

6 Jan

Malak ShaherPublished:06-01-2011

In front of the bus a fancy car weaved right and left across the street. The bus driver shouted as he tried to see the driver and throw him an insult or two. It was clear from the bus that the car was full of women in black. When the bus driver approached the car, he discovered that the driver was a young child.“Stick to one side of the road,” the bus driver shouted angrily.“The road is not yours,” the no-more than 12-year-old boy replied.Despite the fact that no one can obtain a driving license before the age of 18, it is common to find children driving cars. In most cases, they drive their family’s car with their father’s approval. Sometimes, a child can even drive the car with his father in the next seat.

In most cases, children driving cars are associated in Yemen with power and manhood.

“I will teach my son how to drive as he grows up. I will not wait for him to be 18 and get a driving license,” said Hisham Abdullah, 33. “I want him to be a man, even if he is still a child.”

In Yemen, driving a car is also associated with responsibility. Driving a car before the age of 18 means that one is old enough to hold responsibility.

“I am no less than any man and I can take the responsibility,” said a 15 year-old boy who drives a bus. He preferred not to mention his name.

However, the responsibility he feels is not enough to make some passengers travel on his bus.

“When I got onto the bus, I did not see the driver’s face. But once I realized he was a child, I got out of the bus,” said Fatima Mukhtar. “My life is not to be put into a child’s hands.”

The number of children driving cars is on the increase and it is now double what it was in 2008, according to Ministry of Interior records.

The administrative offices in the country registered more than 1,000 cases where children were driving cars, 521 of whom had accidents during 2008. According to the same records, 454 accidents were in Sana’a, 39 in Hodeida and 11 in Taiz.

Despite the increasing number of children who drive cars, Yahya Zaher, director of the Traffic Administration, said that all drivers should follow the law.

“According to the law, a fine of YR10,000 [about USD50] is imposed on a person driving a car under the age of 18,” said Zaher.

“No one is excluded. If I find a boy under 18, I give him a violation receipt. The law is the law and I do not compromise,” said a traffic police officer in Sana’a who preferred not to be named.

Nevertheless, Saleh Sa’eed, 45, a taxi driver, said that he has never seen or heard of traffic police giving child drivers violation receipts.

“A child nearly caused me an accident. If he’d been caught already and given a violation receipt, he would not have been there,” said Sa’eed. “Children driving cars are not given violation receipts, especially if they are in fancy cars.”

Most Yemenis, questioned by the Yemen Times, who allow their children to drive cars, gave similar explanations. They said that their children did not need to be old to drive and that driving cars helped them to become responsible. Others said that they had to drive, as they were responsible for their families.

Sa’eed explained that he started driving cars when he was 15 to help his family and after the death of his father, he took care of his mother and sister. He had to drive them home from their village and to other places they needed to go to.

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