“There are some who die on the site”: in Iraq, child labor in factories for less than 3 euros a day

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In Iraq, three million children under 15 leave school to join factories, car garages, bakeries, when they are not collecting plastic waste on the streets. Video in support, our Observer tries to question the working conditions of these children.

Hassine Qassim is 28 years old and works as a video surveillance technician. Provider for several factories in the province of Baghdad, he takes advantage of his travels to observe the living conditions of these child workers. On June 14, he notably posted on TikTok several videos denouncing the living conditions of children in a brick factory in a industrial complex from the city of Nahrawan, in the province of Baghdad.

Very young children are seen stacking blocks of bricks in rows, which stretch for hundreds of meters. Under the supervision of a man smoking a cigarette, the little ones work in the open air, under a blazing sun, between mountains of sand and bricks, and a lot of smoke. Hassine Qassim asks a girl wearing a veil and plastic slides how much she earns. “Five thousand [dinars irakiens, soit 2,86 euros, NDLR]She replies. Her sister and brother, even younger than her, are stacking more bricks next to them.

The scene is evidence of child labor very widespread in Iraq. In a country where 11.4 million people lived below the poverty line in 2020, 37% of children find themselves forced to earn their own bread, alerted Unicef ​​in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They have no rights and no physical or legal protection”

There are about 400 families who work or make their children work in the industrial complex in which I filmed the video. Most of them come from provinces south of Baghdad: Basra, Nassiriya or Diwaniya, which are all hundreds of kilometers from Baghdad and therefore these families spend all summer on the site doing seasonal work.

Often the children stay at their work site during the season and return to their provinces with their families – if they have any – in the winter. For example, the boy we see in my video has no one and therefore he lives there all year round, there are small accommodations planned. Most of these children are between 6 and 10 years old. They are often entrusted with physical labor despite their young age: they cut, load and transport bricks, without protective tools such as helmets, glasses or gloves.

“This situation suits the bosses since they need cheap labor”

This favors work accidents. There are some who die on the site [depuis début 2021, au moins une enfant est décédée et six autres ont été blessés pendant leur temps de travail, selon l’Unicef, NDLR]. When they are injured at work, as there is no hospital or dispensary in Nahrawan, they must be transported to Baghdad. [à 56 km, NDLR] and unfortunately they die on the way. From what I have seen, the bosses then arrange with their families by settling a sum to compensate for the death of their child.


Children work in a brick factory in Maysan (south-east). Photo published by the “Iraqy Museum” page in June 2019.

This situation suits the bosses since they need cheap labor, the daily pay of the children not exceeding 5,000 or 7,000 Iraqi dinars. [entre 2,87 et 4 euros, NDLR], in comparison an adult worker is paid between 25,000 and, at most, 500,000 dinars per week [entre 14,3 et 286 euros, NDLR] according to its skills and missions. They take no responsibility for the kids, they have no rights and no physical or legal protection.

A month earlier, on May 10, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) demanded from the Iraqi government and parliament to in practice ban child labor especially in dangerous missions such as construction sites or factories. Yet Iraqi law already prohibits the work of minors under the age of 15.

“Nearly 800 000 children are in the labor market in Iraq “

Ali Al Bayati is a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR). He explains:

Child labor in Iraq is a direct result of the crises the country has been going through since 2003: wars, economic crisis, invasion of the Islamic State organization … Many of the children affected have lost one of their parents, or both, or are internally displaced, sometimes homeless and on their own. Three million of them are out of school. This makes it a vulnerable target for all kinds of trafficking and in particular moonlighting. Since 2014, between 2% and 4% of Iraqi children have worked, or 800,000 children in the labor market.


Two boys work in the ovens of a bakery in Diwaniya (south). “Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries for a child,” denounces the Internet user.

Faced with these figures, the Iraqi state has no effective long-term strategy. Iraq signed treaties in 1994 [notamment les conventions n°138 et n°182 de l’Organisation internationale du travail qui réglementent l’âge minimum pour l’emploi et les pires formes de travail des enfants, NDLR] but no law has been approved or enforced. Sometimes the authorities treat this phenomenon from a security point of view, the children are arrested and then released. However, each case must be studied separately. But this work is not done. There are a few NGOs trying to rehabilitate these populations, but we are talking about millions of children, a figure that is increasing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The ideal would be for the state to support families by reserving social assistance and create jobs for parents.


A child collects plastic bottles to sell them to recycling factories in Kirkuk (north).

According to a report of Unicef ​​dating from October 2020, 17% of families of internally displaced Iraqis had to make their children work to survive. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has set up a financial assistance program, ending in December 2021, benefiting 1,500 children in the worst forms of child labor or at risk, to ensure their protection and address the roots of child labor in the country.

1 thought on ““There are some who die on the site”: in Iraq, child labor in factories for less than 3 euros a day”

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