Baghdad: war, poverty and Isis fuel child labour
The story of 13-year-old Haydar Karar, forced into carpentry eight hours a day, for seven days, since the age of eight. For a weekly wage of about 20 euros. Mohanad Jabbar, 14, works in a shop, but dreams of becoming an engineer. The areas once under Islamic State where exploitation is most widespread. The failure of government policies.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Wars, confessional violence, Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) and widespread poverty are fuelling the practice of child labour in Iraq, a phenomenon on the rise that runs parallel with school drop-outs who have not reached the minimum grade.
One story, as dramatic as many others, is that of Haydar Karar, forced to spend up to eight hours a day in a carpentry shop tidying up tools and dragging heavy wooden beams. His is an example like many others, in a country struggling to recover 20 years after the US invasion that deposed Rais Saddam Hussein and triggered a spiral of conflict and terror, culminating in the jihadist rise in 2014.
Today he is 13 years old, but since the age of eight he has worked in the carpentry shop owned by an uncle in Baghdad, and his childhood is punctuated by many of the problems that have devastated his own country.
"I was expelled from school because of a fight," he tells Afp, "and they never wanted to take me back," which is why his family finally decided to get him a job "to build my future" and "allow me to get married". Today he works from 8 am to 5 pm, every day, with a one-hour break for a meal.
Karar's weekly wage, the equivalent of about 20 euros (less than three a day), barely covers his and his sister's needs. Both live with another uncle.
Mohanad Jabbar, 14 years old, earns about six Euros a day in a shop in the capital that produces building products. Like his older brother, he has been working since he was seven years old to contribute to his relatives' livelihood. "I would like to study and become an engineer," he confesses, "but my family needs me" to survive.
Children work among others as apprentice mechanics and rubbish collectors, in cafes or hairdressing shops, wash car windows and sell paper handkerchiefs by the roadside. "Child labour is constantly increasing," admits Hassan Abdel Saheb, head of the department at the Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, due to "wars, conflicts and displacement". And despite the possible riches from oil, almost a third of the 42 million inhabitants live in poverty, according to UN figures.
The country is struggling to regain stability after the wars, corruption, lack of infrastructure and the dramatic rise of Isis in the years between 2014 and 2017, now defeated militarily, but present in terms of ideology and with small cells or lone wolves active and ready to strike. And it is precisely in the areas once under the control of the Islamic State, particularly Mosul in the north, which had become its capital and stronghold, that the practice of child labour has become most widespread.
As Abdel Saheb himself points out, child labour - theoretically forbidden by law in the country until the age of 15 - has increased 'particularly in the provinces invaded by Isis'. Exploiting children is punished with imprisonment and a fine, but 'with many households left without a breadwinner, mothers have been forced to make their children work'.
A study by the Ministry of Labour confirms a growing trend in the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, as well as Baghdad itself. In an attempt to curb the phenomenon, the government has arranged for aid to be allocated to the poorest families with monthly allowances of between 100 and over 250 euro, depending on the number of children.
An International Rescue Committee (IRC) study of 411 families and 265 children revealed an 'alarming peak' of child labour at the end of 2022, especially in the conflict-torn area of Mosul. In the area, around 90 per cent of families had 'one or more child workers'. Moreover, around 75 per cent of them admitted to 'working in informal or hazardous roles' such as waste collection and disposal or in construction.