Iraq’s children have suffered more than just successive wars and economic sanctions. The loss of parents and family resources has boosted child labor, homelessness, and inclinations towards violence and rebellion. They often now live in homes where 25 people live in a space of 40 square meters. Even intact families may comprise parents and five children in a single six-meter room.
The increase in child labor reflects families’ dire economic situation: children are frequently a family’s only breadwinners, and they work cheap. Contractors in municipal services, for example, prefer to use children in order to cut costs. Here, a child may be used for agricultural labor or for janitorial work. Many work in piles of garbage, either removing them to another place or collecting empty bottles and cans to sell.
Other children load and transport items in the markets, where they must pull carts weighing 60-70 kilograms and carry boxes weighing 15 kilograms in temperatures of 50 degrees centigrade. Two children may unload a truck carrying 1,000 kilograms of food items.
Not surprisingly, Iraq’s child workers suffer from a wide array of serious health problems. Children who work in the garbage dumps are prone to skin and respiratory problems, while those who work with paints eventually become addicted to the intoxicants that they inhale. And all working children are vulnerable to malnutrition, as their diet typically lacks the items necessary to build body tissues.