• New data shows majority of children surveyed in East Mosul are working in unsafe conditions, 95% of children missing key identification documents, and more than half of households surveyed having one or more children engaged in labour.

  • Slow economic recovery post-conflict is causing families to resort to relying on child labour, as Iraqi children miss out on fundamental childhood rights.

On World Children’s Day, an alarming spike in rates of child labour in Iraq continues to deprive children of their basic rights as families run out of options to meet basic needs, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Iraq reports. 

In a new survey conducted in five areas of East Mosul the IRC observed that 90% of caregivers reported having one or more children engaged in labour. While 85% of children reported that they did not feel safe in their place of work, describing instances of harassment and not having proper equipment to protect themselves during work in factories or on the streets. Almost five years after the declared end of conflict, economic conditions in Mosul remain dire for many families, including those who are displaced within the country and those who have returned to their areas of origin having been displaced during the conflict.  

The IRC surveyed 211 households in al-90, al-Intisar, Arabachiya, al-Samah and al-Yarmja neighbourhoods in East Mosul and conducted additional surveys with 265 children who had been identified as engaged in child labour. The results showed that child labour is a common negative coping mechanism for families in these areas, who are struggling to rebuild their lives due to limited livelihood opportunities, missing documentation - such as national ID cards or birth certificates - and poor living conditions.  

The survey findings demonstrated that: 

The conditions linked to the prevalence of child labour in East Mosul are present throughout Iraqi governorates that experienced conflict. Following the end of the conflict with ISIS, lack of civil documentation and slow economic recovery have been reported in Anbar, Kirkuk, and Salah al-Din by other IRC clients.  

Samar Abboud, Country Director for the IRC in Iraq said: 

“When families are unable to meet their basic needs, sometimes their last resort is sending their child to work. We know that child labour puts children in harm’s way and leads to long-term effects on their physical and mental well-being. When children are working, they are robbed of the chance to experience a normal and safe childhood.”

Families reported several reasons for their children working, including the inability to meet costs of schooling, overwhelming need for income to support basic family expenditures such as food and shelter, schools not allowing enrollment due to missing documentation or societal stigma around perceived affiliation with members of the group known as ISIS. Families with perceived affiliation often face difficulties reintegrating into their areas of origin or new communities, and this can cause children to feel unwelcome in schools or even prevent families from going through the arduous enrollment processes.  

Salma, a displaced caregiver from Shekhan now living in Al-Arbachiya, East Mosul, spoke to IRC about her children’s labour as waste collectors. She said:  

“I feel sad and depressed because my children are now different from the rest of the children. When I see other children going to school and wearing clean and good clothes, this makes me very sad.”

Instead of going to their local school Salma shared that the family had to make the tough decision to send their children to work in order to supplement the family’s limited income. 

Children engaged in labour are at high risk of disrupted education which can significantly affect their development and life chances. They also face social stigma and isolation and are at greater risk of protection concerns including abuse and harassment.  

Mohammed was forced to drop out of school at age 9 and now, at age 14, works in waste collection. He told IRC that he has not been in school for five years and does not wish to re-enroll: 

“Because of the economic situation and displacement, I have no desire [to re-enroll]; I need to support my family and there is no one else to help them.” He added, “I don’t like this work, but I need to work.”

Iraq is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and enshrines mandatory primary education for all children in its constitution. Despite the protections for Iraqi children in law, the reality is far different for many children across the country. This World Children’s Day the IRC calls on the Iraqi government to greater ensure that its laws protecting children from labour are enforced, and that a particular focus is placed on enrolling children who remain without civil documentation more than 5 years since the end of the conflict. 

The organisation also calls on the international community, including the UN, international NGOs, and donors, to scale-up programming that appropriately addresses child harm in Iraq, including child labour. While also working with the Iraqi Government to address the root causes that continue to lead to dangerous child labor practices.