More than one in 10 children under the age of 14 work in Iraq, but the true rates are unknown because government numbers ignore camps for displaced persons
In Iraq, poverty and war have caused a sharp spike in child labor, with children as young as eight-years-old working physically demanding jobs.
“I work as a carpenter from 8 am to 5 pm, and my father also works in carpentry, but in another place,” said Iraqi child laborer Haydar Karar. “I’ve been working here since I was eight,” the 13-year-old said.
Conflict and a ruined economy have allowed child labor to become a common practice, with more than one in 10 children under the age of 14 working. However, the true rates are impossible to find, as government numbers ignore camps for displaced persons, where rates are the highest.
But even in major cities, children that fail school find hard labor as their only recourse.
“My parents didn’t want me to drop out of school, but I refused,” said Haydar, “They eventually agreed, and I decided to work at my uncle’s workshop.”
Karar earns $20 a month, a meager sum that in many cases represents a household income for families who have lost men, the traditional breadwinners, to war.
“Child labor is constantly increasing, due to the wars, displacement, and conflicts that have taken place, especially in the governorates that have been invaded by Islamic State,” said Hassan Abdel-Saheb, head of the Child Labor Division at the Iraqi Social Affairs Ministry.
“There are many families that lost their breadwinner, so mothers have to let their sons work to help the family,” he explained.
Children often find work at the lowest levels of society, such as garbage collectors and window washers – jobs easily denied, as the practice is illegal.
“The labor law prohibits children under 15 from working, and punishes anyone who employs children,” said Abdel-Saheb.
But enforcement is sporadic at best. In the aftermath of war and societal collapse, there are simply no alternatives.