Syrian Slavery of Iraqi Children

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Washington DC – December 14, 2009 (Farid Ghadry Blog) — There is new evidence that the children of Iraqi refugees in Syria are being recruited to perform duties long deemed, by international child labor laws, as slavery.

The UN has factually documented many cases of Iraqi children working as laborers in Syria to sustain their families. According to UNICEF, an estimated one in six children aged between 6-14 are forced into labor.

But in Syria, there is no scientific data available yet to understand the severity of the problem; however, through unscientific polling of refugees who appear at the Douma UNHCR center, there is growing evidence that more and more children are leaving school for menial jobs in Syrian companies or households. This was confirmed by UNHCR, Syrian-based public information officer Farah Dakhlallah.

For a child to find work, it must find a willing entity to hire him/her. While the UN is acutely aware of the problem, UNICEF does not shed any light on where and how Iraqi children are recruited into slavery. It only cites the reason for their forced employment.

According to an outdated (November 2007) survey by the IPSOS market research agency, 37% of Iraqi refugees interviewed said they relied on their savings as the source of their income; 24 % relied on remittances from abroad; and 24% on earned wages. But the survey also reveals that 33% expected their money to last less than three months and 53% did not know how long before their savings would be exhausted.

Based on these numbers, it is safe to estimate that the children of some from the 33% group who expected their savings to last another 3 months and from the larger figure of 53% who did not know how long their savings would last, are employed today as laborers. With 1 million Iraqi refugees, the pool of Iraqi child laborers come from an estimated 860,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, which renders the problem too severe for the Syrian government not to play a hand in it either through partisanship or by turning a blind eye to the problem.

Recently, the International Labor Organization (ILO), in partnership with UNICEF, has initiated a new study to estimate the expanse of the problem in Syria and whose results are expected within 3 months. Again, the study will not provide information on where these children are working and why the Syrian government has not enforced international laws when the whole government operates on the basis of monitoring its own people.

The fact that the Syrian government, which excels at monitoring the activities of its own citizens, cannot monitor who is employing these children is testimony that the regime may be a willing accomplice entangled in allowing the slavery of Iraqi children. It is inexcusable for the government of Syria not to halt these activities.


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