Child Labour Doubles In Iraq As Violence, Displacement Hit Incomes
Ali Hussein Khudair grimaces as he lifts the angle grinder in a blacksmith's shop in Baghdad. The only barrier between the flying sparks and his eyes are a pair of sunglasses.
Ali is 12 years old, and he quit school to work in order to support his family.
According to United Nations children's' agency UNICEF, more than half a million Iraqi children are estimated to be at work rather than at school as violence and displacement hurt the income of millions of families.
"I used to go to school and work here for half a day with a low salary. I quit school and started working full time here and now I get the full wage. Sometimes I get 5,000 to 10,000 dinars ($4 - 8) in tips," said Ali.
"I wish to go back to school and play with my friends. I would be glad to go back and learn to read and write; I will be ashamed to have to say that I can't read when I grow up," he added.
However some young labourers believe that vocational skills are more useful than an education in Iraq's current climate.
"I came here to work and learn the craft. It's better than school. What rights do graduates have? They are selling water on streets. The government does nothing. It's better for me to learn a craft," said 14-year-old Karrar Jaafar.
For most child workers, there simply is not a choice.
"I work to help my family, because we are poor and my father died back in 2007. We are six boys and three girls, providing for our family. I even quit school," said Rasool Kamal Abbas.
The number of children currently in the workforce is more than 575,000, doubling 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.
A local official confirmed the increase in numbers of children at work.
"In the past we had only 65 registered child worker, but these numbers started to increase as a result of the bad security situation in Iraq and the deteriorating economic situation and the austerity that the country is going through, all these factors made children suffer poverty, add to that low education level of some families," said Dina Abdul Hasan, Head of anti-child labour department in Iraq.
UNICEF said since the beginning of 2014, almost 10 percent of Iraqi children - more than 1.5 million - have been forced to flee their homes because of violence. In 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) group took control of large areas in northern and western Iraq.
Nearly one in five schools in Iraq is closed due to conflict, and almost 3.5 million children of school-age are missing out on an education, UNICEF said in a report on June 30.
In total, at least 3.6 million children in Iraq are at risk of death, serious injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, an increase of 1.3 million since the past 18 months, according to UNICEF.
About 4.7 million Iraqi children need humanitarian aid, while many families now face deteriorating conditions following military operations against ISIS, said the report