Thursday, December 1, 2011

Child Labor Booming in Iraq

by Rachelle Kliger

Iraqi Children Left Homeless After U.S. Invasions
-Isn't it wonderful that the U.S. helped the people of Iraq?
Child labor is becoming a growing problem among impoverished Iraqi refugees in Syria.

A growing number of Iraqi refugee children in Syria have joined the illegal child labor market to help their families make ends meet, United Nations officials have warned.

Syria has taken in a huge number of Iraqi refugees since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Barred from legal employment in the country, aid workers say the refugees are running out of options to make money.

"There are more and more Iraqi families sliding into poverty," Farah Dakhlallah, a public information officer for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Syria told The Media Line. "They are barred from legal employment in Syria so a lot more children are being sent to work."

Dakhlallah said the statistics were sorely lacking but anecdotal evidence and indirect data suggests the number of child workers is rising.

"One of the indicators that child labor is on the rise is if you look at the school dropout rate," she explained. "There were fewer Iraqi children enrolled in 2008-2009 than in previous years. This could be attributed to a number of factors, such as resettlements or returns, but we also think that child labor, as a result of economic hardship, is a primary factor for these dropout rates."

Most children in the child labor market are engaged in low-wage jobs such as working in eateries or cleaning toilets.

Dakhlallah said that while child labor is not restricted to the refugee population, and Syrian children are also sent to work, the refugee population tends to be the most vulnerable and susceptible to economic difficulties.

"We try to assist vulnerable families, we help rehabilitate schools, provide support to the Ministry of Education and we recently funded the opening of two schools," she said. "At the beginning of each academic year we have a school-kit distribution and we provide Iraqi children with backpacks, school supplies and new school uniforms. We also try to assist children in coping with changes in the curriculum by providing remedial classes."

Iraqi refugees in Syria constitute one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world. While Syria hosts some 1.1 million refugees, the vast majority of whom are from Iraq, less than a quarter of them are registered with the U.N.

"A lot of Iraqis work on the illegal market which helps them to subsist, but it also exposes then to a lot of exploitation," Dakhlallah said.

According to UNICEF, the U.N. child organization, an estimated 158 million children aged 5 to 14 - one in six children in the world - are engaged in child labor.

The organization says that children living in poor households and in rural areas are most likely to be engaged in child labor and that those burdened with household chores are overwhelmingly girls, who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

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