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Displaced Children in Iraq face child labor and exploitation

Photo by: ahmed falah - iohr Photo by: ahmed falah - iohr

The Iraqi observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) has documented many cases of child abuse, particularly displaced children who were forced to migrate with their families from their home cities, which are occupied by the Islamic State Organization (ISIS), to safer Iraqi cities. Neither governmental nor international agencies have provided them any shelter or food, forcing them to work to fulfill the basic needs of their families. However, employers, due to the urgent need for work, have exploited those children.

 

The Iraqi observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) has documented many cases of child abuse, particularly displaced children who were forced to migrate with their families from their home cities, which are occupied by the Islamic State Organization (ISIS), to safer Iraqi cities. Neither governmental nor international agencies have provided them any shelter or food, forcing them to work to fulfill the basic needs of their families. However, employers, due to the urgent need for work, have exploited those children.

On 17 April 2016, 14 year-old Mohammed Al Nimrawi migrated from Heet in Al-Anbar province to the capital Baghdad.

Al Nimrawi’s family did not have enough money to pay for rent and food; and so he was forced to work in a carpentry workshop for “very little” pay.

Al Nimrawi works nine hours a day, sometimes up to twelve hours, and he gets paid 10,000 Iraqi Dinars ($7 USD). He believes that staying at work is a "necessity" until he can go back to his city, which he was forced to leave because of the battles between Iraqi Security forces and ISIS.  Al Nimrawi told the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) that he never envisaged himself wandering between houses and carpentry shops at his age to install bedrooms. In a depressed tone, he said, “My destiny forced me to work at this young age. We used to live in a 400-squared meters house in Heet, but now we live in an apartment smaller than a quarter of that area."

Al Nimrawi’s and other children’s presence in Iraqi workshops and shops, violates the Iraqi Labor Law, which states in article 6, chapter 3, that the minimum age for employment is 15 years old. According to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, everyone under the age of 18 is considered a child who must have special protection and care.

The displacement crisis in Iraq, which has surged since December 2013 when military operations started in Anbar, gave incentive to some factory owners to reduce the workers’ daily wages due to the abundance of labour as a result of the massive waves of displacement. Such actions often lead to feelings of hatred and resentment of the displaced workers coming from war-torn cities.

Ammar Monem, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Iraq, revealed to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) that "the influx of new workers coming from areas of displacement has affected the employment chances of the locals." However, he described this fact as a normal condition due to the lack of security in Iraq.

In fact, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs does not have accurate statistics about displaced child workers in Iraq, according to the Ministry’s official spokesperson. However, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that more than half a million Iraqi children are engaged in the labor market.

The UNICEF report that was issued in July, adds, “The number of children currently working, more than 575,000, has doubled since 1990, the year when Iraq attacked Kuwait, setting off a chain of events that led to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the sectarian strife that continues to this day.”

IOHR has documented more than 14 cases of child exploitation in the labor market. Those children have refused to speak to the IOHR, most likely out of fear of losing their jobs.

Raad Rabie, who is 16 years old and was displaced from Baiji in Salahaddin to Baghdad, is no different from other displaced peers in terms of labor wages. Currently, he works in a car wash station and gets paid almost $3 USD daily.

Rabie told the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) that "The wage I receive from the station owner cannot even pay my daily transport fares, but I mainly rely on the gratuities from car owners. I do not want to stay in this situation at all; I am still waiting for the day when I will go back to my house and school."

Rizan El Sheikh Ali, member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives’ Committee for Women, Family and Childhood acknowledged, "Displaced children work for lower wages than other workers because it is necessary for them to work and get some money to help them survive their period of displacement."

She expresses her regret that, " the Iraqi Government has no plan to help displaced children or to reduce child labor in general." She explains, “This is due to the absence of legislation to protect Iraqi children because of the disagreements of political blocs on approving it."

Economist Maitham Laibi recognized that "increasing the supply of labor force against the demand leads to an increase in competition in the labor force market, and decreases wages.”

Laibi said, "In the case of Iraq, this situation has become clear for cities affected by the waves of displacement, where the competition increased between workers in private sector between displaced persons and the local population."

Laibi added, in response to the IOHR about the state of the wages in the labor market, "In the construction industry, wages dropped for both skilled and unskilled workers, because displaced workers generally accept work with lower wages. They do so under the pressure of the deterioration of their living conditions and the loss of their source of income upon displacement, and because of the new financial responsibilities they bear such as the need to pay rent, and buy goods and basic services."

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) demands that the Iraqi Government and UN agencies in Iraq, particularly the Child Welfare Commission in Iraq and UNICEF, to take all necessary measures to prevent child labor and exploitation in Iraq, and to ensure the implementation of relevant legislation in cases of child labor and exploitation, and implement penalties and fines for violators.

The IOHR demands that the Iraqi Government and local authorities receiving displaced individuals from areas of armed combat, must facilitate and speed up necessary measures such as providing required documentation for displaced children and registering them in local schools, in addition to providing them with psychological and social support.

As for the situation in displacement camps, The IOHR calls on both governmental and non-governmental organization charged with managing the camps to set up educational facilities, albeit temporary arrangements, in addition to providing shelter, food, hygiene, and medical facilities.

The IOHR stresses on “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,” and reaffirms that all state parties must “take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article,” according to article 32 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

 

 

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