End Child Labour in Iraq

The United Nations in Iraq, including ILO and UNICEF call on all partners to ensure enhanced social justice and step up the fight against child labour.

Statement | 12 June 2023
BAGHDAD, 12 June 2023 - This year’s World Day Against Child Labour links advancing social justice with tackling child labour, under the slogan ‘Social Justice for All. End Child Labour!’

Social Justice in the World of Work means promoting productive and freely chosen employment; enhancing measures of social protection; promoting social dialogue; and promoting fundamental principles and rights at work. It also means that we need to protect the fundamental rights of every child against the worst forms of child labour.

In Iraq, as in many parts of the world, one of the root causes for child labour is poverty and economic deprivation, leaving families struggling to make ends meet. Years of conflict, displacement, and economic downturn has left many children in Iraq in or at risk of child labour. The UNICEF-supported 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS6) indicates that 5 per cent of children aged 5-14 years in Iraq are engaged in child labour, with higher rates among children living in low-income households and in rural areas.

“Children should learn and play not work. They deserve opportunities that allow them to thrive and build a promising future,” said Ghulam Isaczai, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Iraq. “To eliminate child labour, we must continue to work with the government and all relevant stakeholders to enhance policies, build capacities and institutions, to address root causes that force many young children into work”, he added.

Iraq has ratified key fundamental conventions that protect children from all forms of child labour, namely ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age, and ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour that have been in force since 1985 and 2001. It is also a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In recent years, efforts by the Government of Iraq and social partners have been made to find practical solutions to directly address the needs of children. The institutionalisation of the ILO-supported Child Labour Monitoring System (CLMS) is one example. The system identifies vulnerable children from host, refugee and internally displaced communities at risk of or already in child labour and provides them with the needed protection and support. The ILO and UNICEF have built the capacities of government officials, civil society organisations, academic institution representatives and other stakeholders on ways to adopt and implement the CLMS across the country.

This, along with the nine child friendly learning spaces (CFLS) established or revived with ILO support, in close coordination with local authorities including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has provided thousands of children in or at risk of child labour with non-formal education, recreational activities and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support – leading to many out of school children returning to school or those engaged in child labour to be pulled out of work.

Part of the response to address the root causes of child labour, is ensuring that families of working children have opportunities to build new skills and access decent employment, so their children no longer have to work. Working closely with vocational centres in Dohuk and Ninewa, the ILO has provided hundreds of parents and caregivers of working children with vocational trainings covering different professions. Many caregivers have also been referred to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ Employment Platform, so they can access employment support, including job placement.

Strengthening the social protection system in Iraq is pivotal in improving lives and ensuring that families are protected from childhood to old age. The ILO, UNICEF and WFP continue to work with the government of Iraq in reforming the social protection system to ensure that the vulnerable and the poor, including children, youth, women, elderly, informal workers, persons with disabilities and Internally Displaced Persons benefit from equitable access to an integrated social protection system.

A key milestone in recent months has been the adoption of the new Retirement and Social Security Law for Private Sector Workers, which expands the legal coverage of the social security system, covering all workers including informal workers, the self-employed and contributing family workers. It also introduces entitlements that include maternity and unemployment benefits. 

The new law brings the social security system for private sector workers in closer alignment with ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102), which was officially ratified by the Government of Iraq in March 2023. 

These efforts are steps in the right direction and will contribute to a long-lasting impact on families and their children. On this World Day Against Child Labour, we reinforce that social justice for children and their families remains a top priority and a responsibility of all partners to ensure that no one is left behind.