Inflammation and stories on iraq

Child Soldiers in Iraq
The use of child soldiers in Iraq is pervasive, with the practice going as far back as 1975, manifested in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party initiative that strove to create a paramilitary organization for children as young as 14 years of age. Thousands of child soldiers volunteered by 1988, many of them wishing to fight against Iran between 1983 and 1985. Drafting became relatively unpopular due to labor shortages, a ramification of child deaths. As ISIS paraded through countries like Iraq and Syria in the coming years, it also learned of the idea of recruiting children to become soldiers.

The Nearer Past

The 1969 Military Service Act, coupled with resolutions that the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) engendered, determined that the pickings for conscription during times of war were up to the RCC’s discretion. According to Human Rights Watch, conscripting children younger than the age of 15 is a war crime and the age that constitutes a violation under international law is 18. Human Rights Watch has censured the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), operating as the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as PKK, and the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS), also with ties to PKK, following an investigation uncovering 29 documented cases of child conscription.

“The PKK should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children younger than 15 constitute war crimes,” says Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The Influence of Poverty

COVID-19 briefly exacerbated poverty in Iraq, with children and adolescents in Iraq bearing much of the burden. An additional 4.5 million Iraqis who moved below the poverty line increased the percentage of impoverished people in Iraq by 11.7% from the 20% mark in 2018. However, the 20% statistic has since fallen to 24.8% due to the governmental decision to attenuate health regulations, somewhat stimulating the economy.

Eliminating child soldiers in Iraq and beyond requires, among other things, a focus on ending poverty. NGOs like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Iraq Child Rights Network are taking a crucial step in the fight by succoring Iraqi and Syrian refugees and empowering them to rebuild their lives. These NGOs also champion healthy childhood development by working in tandem with official bodies like UNICEF to enable laws that bode well for children in Iraq respectively.

Many factors, including poverty, abduction, threat, manipulation, survival and protection, compel children to prematurely engage or aid armed combatants, although poverty and manipulation tend to be especially pervasive. A suffusing of refugee camps, an answer to conflict, especially explosive ones, presents an abundance of children who are devoid of proper guidance through loss of family or legal guardianship, leaving them at mercy of manipulative and despotic fighters to fill the void. Whatever the reasons, child involvement in armed conflict is a solemn breach of child rights and international humanitarian law.

A Ramification of the Past

The power vacuum that resulted from the deposition of Saddam Hussein left many combatants struggling for power in the region, eventually giving birth to ISIS, a Sunni-insurgency from Iraq, which caused devastation that the world came to know. As ISIS annexed parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014, the group began to envision a lasting caliphate that could not and would not last, except with an incoming generation of properly indoctrinated subjects. The recent conquests of ISIS, which displaced approximately 700,000 students from proper education, left the terrorist group with a sea of students susceptible to recruitment.

The Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008

Remedying the issue of child soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere is perplexing. Military action risks both a moral dilemma and the potential for intra-conflict for any given military that may otherwise intervene. One can attribute some progress in the battle against the conscription of child soldiers in Iraq to the enactment of the Child Soldier’s Prevention Act of 2008, which has employed the method of engagement of publicly identifying countries involved with child soldiers and restricting security assistance to such countries under the condition that the call to cease child involvement in war goes unheeded.

Prohibition of licenses for direct commercial sales of military paraphernalia, foreign military financing, international military schooling, peacekeeping operations and superfluous military equipment have undergone implementation in order to target countries, albeit said countries may receive a full or partial waiver under the condition that the response to active restrictions brings forth a favorable response. Although Iraq remains a designated country under CSPA ruling, it received a full waiver of restrictions from the Trump administration in 2020, indicating that the country took steps to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate child soldiers.

Geneva Call

Although states largely experience penalties for child conscription, non-state organizations are the usual perpetrators. The restrictions push these states to fight against the issue at home, though this has not kept non-state actors out of earshot of organizations like Geneva Call, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that began in March 2000. Geneva Call tasks itself with enlightening conflict actors on their responsibility as soldiers and informing an inflicted population of their rights.

The HPG and YBS came under close scrutiny by Geneva Call following a Human Rights Watch report noting their involvement in recruiting child soldiers in Iraq. In November 2016, 31 leaders, commanders and advisers of armed movements from several countries, including Iraq, partook in workshops and discussions regarding child protection in armed conflict. The opportunity aimed to educate groups on international norms while seeking pragmatic means of achieving and maintaining adherence to these guidelines.

Using children for military gain branches out of poverty, itself a progenitor of war. Legislation, advocation, education and its complements are not without merit, but eradicating the use of child soldiers once and for all is only possible if countries commit to reducing abject poverty within their borders.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iraq
Iraq has suffered from past wars, a security-challenged and corrupt government and the recent withdrawal of the United States troops. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq adds another challenging element to this underdeveloped country. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s impoverished communities are struggling. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 4.5 million Iraqis below the poverty line. Job losses and a rise in prices for goods have contributed to the increase in poverty.

The Children

The pandemic has impacted Iraqi children the most. According to a UNICEF Iraq study, one out of five Iraqi children were already impoverished before the crisis. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number has doubled to two out of five children. The study also revealed that the increase in poverty has affected school enrollment, nutrition and children’s development and coping skills.

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the country needs more social services programs that protect children and that the Iraq government should take prompt action in making these programs more accessible in rural areas. The Iraq government has the funding to promote these programs and health-related public service announcements as well as awareness campaigns on gender-based violence awareness and prevention. However, the government has not always been consistent.

Employment Challenges

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Iraqis have faced an increase in employment challenges. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research in collaboration with the Cash Consortium for Iraq (CCI), COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on vulnerable households’ income and employment. Younger workers and people in informal employment make up 3,265 of the households in the study.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iraq unemployment rate was at 12.76% and rose to 13.74%, after the pandemic. Research also determined that the majority had no health insurance or social security. One-quarter of citizens that had employment prior to the pandemic lockdown experienced permanent lay-offs, with 36% of those in the age group of 18-24 permanently dismissed from their jobs. Further assessment revealed that those employed under verbal agreements had a 40% reduction in income. Only 16% had savings and 85% only had savings to last less than three months.

The International Labor Country Coordinator for Iraq, Maha Kattaa, stated that COVID-19 has limited the availability of resources to vulnerable households and has affected their ability to cope. It has also created barriers to retaining good jobs.

The Government and Solutions

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the Iraqi government establish long-term policy measures for impoverished communities to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq. It suggested that the government create accessible support packages and provide cash and in-kind support to those who have lost their jobs. UNICEF Iraq also suggested that the Iraqi government make equal social security benefits available for public and private employees.

Despite the fact that the United States has withdrawn troops from Iraq, it is continuing to provide aid to the country’s impoverished communities. In August 2021, it donated 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has prepared labs for large-scale testing of COVID-19 and will continue to do so long-term. USAID has also implemented public health emergency plans, provided more than 19,000 food baskets and distributed cash-based transfers to the most vulnerable Iraqi citizens.

The Iraq government has been open to aid from other countries. The government wants to combat the negative effects of COVID-19 but realizes it needs help from outside sources. On the other hand, the government has not led a consistent vaccine awareness campaign and many Iraqis are skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccines. On April 24, 2021, Iraq had more than one million COVID-19 cases.

Looking Ahead

The Iraqi government has made efforts to protect its citizens from COVID-19. However, the inconsistent messaging, limited resources and rise in COVID-19 cases have made it difficult for impoverished communities to thrive. The resources for new jobs, healthcare, education enrollment and coping skills will need to be steady and must align with the current needs of the country. Continued studies on COVID-19 and the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq as well as aid from other countries could help Iraq significantly.

– Dana Smith
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Iraq
The media has brought attention to violence, war and terror in Iraq. Unfortunately, there are other effects of the ongoing conflict and instability in Iraq, particularly human trafficking. Human trafficking in Iraq prevailed under the Sadam era, but in the years following the end of his regime, the issue continued to worsen. As a result, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Department of State ranked Iraq as a Tier 2 country. A Tier 2 status means that the Iraqi government has implemented measures to combat human trafficking but has not been successful so far.

These measures included identifying 70 victims of trafficking; however, some have acknowledged that the number is far greater than this because of the lack of functional infrastructure to accurately report and combat human trafficking. For example, the report from the Department of State determined that “as of February 2020, the KRG reported 2,893 Yezidis — including men, women and children — remain missing. Some reports have indicated that the missing women and girls remain with ISIS in Eastern Syria and Turkey or have been exploited in other parts of the region, Europe or Asia.” Yezidis are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Iraq.

The Link Between ISIS and Human Trafficking

More than seven years of war and the emergence of terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, wreaked havoc on Iraqi public and political infrastructures, leaving organizations such as the Ministry of the Interior under-resourced and lacking in accountability measures for its anti-trafficking department. Additionally, cultural stigmas have made Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian women and girls particularly vulnerable to trafficking. These stigmas include customs such as temporary marriages or traditions in some areas that a woman should marry her rapist.

Officially, Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December 2017. However, during the height of ISIS’s power, ISIS trafficked tens of thousands of women and children as sex slaves and many more children as child soldiers. ISIS trafficked an estimated 1,100 child soldiers from Iraq and Syria after taking control of large regions of the nation in June 2014.

The terrorist organization continues to have a presence in Iraq, leaving many victims vulnerable. This is especially true because victims often do not have a support network after escaping their traffickers. In this context, it is important to understand the measures that the Iraqi government can take to improve its anti-trafficking efforts on a systemic level.

There are clear steps that the government can take to address human trafficking in Iraq that will hopefully act as a framework to guide other nations struggling after the presence of war and terrorism. The U.S. Department of State published a 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report that provides suggestions on how to best combat this issue.

Investigating Traffickers

Authorities do not hold military officials in the armed forces accountable for complicity in human trafficking in Iraq. Unfortunately, reports determined that corrupt officials are working in trafficking networks themselves without repercussions due to a lack of internal accountability. Additionally, due to a lack of education, military officials who are in charge of preventing trafficking and punishing traffickers easily fall prey to bribes and schemes that blame victims for crimes that traffickers commit. Investigating, prosecuting, convicting and sentencing all complicit traffickers indiscriminately and disregarding their positions in the government or military has the potential to make a significant impact toward ending trafficking.

Regulating Trafficking and the Iraqi Government

Since Iraq has been struggling with its infrastructure, it has had challenges bringing traffickers to justice because there is a lack of framework and regulations for this cause. One important suggestion from the Trafficking in Persons Report is for officials to receive education on regulations so that they can implement the regulations better. As a consequence of a lack of education, victims of trafficking frequently experience punishment for crimes traffickers forced them to commit, such as prostitution and child soldiering.

In some cases, traffickers accuse their victims of petty crime in retaliation due to the victim reporting them. As a result, authorities arrest the victims and return them to the traffickers’ custody. Therefore, it is crucial to educate officials to better recognize trafficking and ensure they have the training necessary to respond to trafficking instances appropriately.

The anti-trafficking programs that are in place, while lacking, are a promising start. The Iraqi government prosecuted and identified more traffickers in the year 2020 than in 2019, additionally providing shelter for a limited number of victims in Baghdad. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also allowed an NGO to build a shelter for victims of trafficking for the first time and helped liberate hundreds of Yezidi individuals from ISIS. These efforts show that the Iraqi government is moving in the right direction to combat human trafficking in Iraq.

Supporting Victims of Trafficking

Ending human trafficking in Iraq is the ultimate goal, but it is also important to think about care for those who are victims. Currently, it is against the law in Iraq for an NGO to build a shelter for victims of human trafficking. Additionally, victims are unable to move or work freely during a trial prosecuting their traffickers and need better protection services during trials. Increased access to basic needs and services such as medical care, long-term housing help and counseling services for their trauma are important first steps toward providing crucial support for victims. The Iraqi anti-trafficking framework is currently lacking in victim resources. Therefore, more focus on the direct wellbeing of victims could provide noticeable and tangible results for those affected.

Unfortunately, there are at least 27 known human trafficking networks in the Iraq and Kurdistan region. This is an ongoing and urgent issue, but while Iraq has many barriers to face, there are also clear pathways that the Iraqi government can take to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and systems of governance.

– Abigail Meyer
Photo: Flickr

Gaming For a Cause, Poverty-Based Simulation Games Raise AwarenessSimulation-based games have introduced a new realm of possibilities for video game creators, from surgeon simulators to first-person shooting programs. Some creators have decided to use this trend to garner empathy and attention for the important issue of global poverty. Despite 10% of the world living in extreme poverty, sympathy can be difficult for some to experience when they are not aware of the circumstances those living in extreme poverty face day-to-day. As such, simulation games are key to raising awareness and catalyzing change. Some creators have begun to take on the gut-wrenching task of creating poverty-based simulation games meant to simulate the experience of living in extreme poverty.

SPENT

“It’s just stuff. Until you don’t have it.” The ominous slogan on the beginning page of SPENT perfectly encapsulates the accidental ungratefulness that so many people who live comfortably feel. SPENT spotlights this luckiness for being able to go to a healthcare clinic or afford the rent by forcing players to experience extreme poverty. SPENT gives players $1,000 and 30 days to survive while making necessary purchases such as healthcare and rent. Although this sounds simple, it is anything but. Players must turn down concerts, miss bill deadlines and rely on friends for money. This sheds light on the physical and emotional toll that poverty has on people and how necessary donations are to their well-being.

This poverty-based game was a partnership project between McKinney Advertising Agencies and the Urban Ministries of Durham. SPENT has been played more than four million times in more than 218 countries. At the end of the game, a pop-up reminds players that the hardships they faced in the game are a reality for millions, prompting them to donate through the site. In its first 10 months, SPENT raised $45,000 from 25,000 new donors.

Survive125

Survive125 is a poverty-based game centered around an impoverished woman, Divya Patel, who lives in India with her four children and a daily salary of $1.25. Players control her life by making impossible decisions such as, “Should you send your teenage daughter to work at a factory (whose potential employer might be a sex trafficker) in order to earn more money?” or, “Should you pull your son out of school every three days in order to get the nearest clean water, which is four hours away?”

Millions of people living in extreme poverty face these questions every day. Each time players answer a question, they lose or gain money and points. The goal is to survive 30 days without running out of money or points. Live 58, a nonprofit organization working to end global poverty, developed this simulation. Live 58 is comprised of 10 charities that work to end global poverty by raising awareness through projects such as the game Survive125. While Survive125 doesn’t have a donation component or statistics, it is making an impact by raising awareness and giving people the opportunity to walk a mile in Divya Patel’s shoes.

This War of Mine

This War of Mine may be a war game, but it starkly differs from its counterparts in one main aspect: the perspective. While most war games such as Call of Duty focus on a heavily militant and violent storyline from the point of view of a soldier, This War of Mine revolves around impoverished civilians in war-torn countries fighting to survive. This poverty-based game simulates an all too common situation in which war impacts innocent children and citizens. Characters search for food, shelter, medical help and safety from bombs, introducing a new angle not seen in war games.

Another interesting take in this game is the idea of mood as a surviving factor; if a character becomes depressed, their work slows, and they suffer negative effects. This factor of depression is prominent in stressful environments such as in a country impacted by war but is often overlooked in mental health care.

Along with raising awareness, the creators of the game, 11 Bit Studios, partnered with War Child, a British organization that helps children in areas of conflict, to raise donations. Through this partnership, they created downloadable content by utilizing the art of graffiti artists who created war-themed artwork. All of the proceeds from the third of these poverty-based simulation games went directly to War Child, ultimately adding up to $500,000 as of 2018. The donation went toward war-torn countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. The proceeds support different projects, notably temporary learning centers, a child helpline and a division of War Child that works specifically with gamers.

Fighting to End Extreme Poverty

In a world where technology replaces human connection, games that remind people of empathy can bridge the gap created by a technological world. New methods, like poverty-based simulation games, appeal to large demographics and rekindle the spirit of generosity in a unique way.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Switzerland helps IraqIn June 2021, Switzerland contributed $1.1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi people as well as Syrian refugees in Iraq. These vulnerable groups of people struggle with food insecurity and have little access to income-generating opportunities. Switzerland helps Iraq by providing funding to the WFP to secure immediate needs and support the Urban Livelihoods projects.

Funding From Switzerland

The finance from Switzerland partially funds Urban Livelihoods projects. The initiative assists and trains around 135,000 people by helping them create businesses and employment opportunities that will provide a sustainable income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the Urban Livelihoods projects, funding from Switzerland supports the WFP in providing monthly food assistance to struggling families and refugees. The WFP uses mobile cash transfers and electronic vouchers to enable families to buy food from markets. In 2021, due to the added impacts of the pandemic, the WFP increased the amount of monthly cash assistance. In cases of “sudden displacement,” the organization “also provides ready-to-eat food packages to support families before they can access a market.”

Refugees in Iraq by the Numbers

As of February 2021, 329,500 refugees live in Iraq. The refugee population in Iraq consists of:

  • Roughly 241,650 Syrian people.
  • About 40,850 refugees from countries besides Syria.
  • An estimated 47,000 stateless individuals.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq hosts almost all of the country’s Syrian refugees. Urban areas host 60% of the refugees, while other refugees reside in nine refugee camps in Kurdistan.

The Syrian Civil War

Pro-democratic protests began in Syria in March 2011. Demonstrations against “high unemployment, corruption and limited political freedom” began after several surrounding countries protested similar conditions. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government met the protests with lethal force, which further increased the push for his resignation. As tensions rose, protesters armed themselves, initially in self-defense, and eventually, to drive out security forces.

As unrest continued, the government’s response intensified. Assad continued to use violence as he strove to end what he termed “foreign-backed terrorism.” Rebel groups emerged and the conflict turned into a civil war. Foreign countries took sides, sending ammunition and armed forces to either the Syrian government or the rebels. The conflict worsened as jihadist entities such as al-Qaeda became involved. The Syrian Civil War continues to this day, with more than 380,000 documented deaths by December 2020 and hundreds of thousands of people missing.

Switzerland’s Relationship With Iraq

Iraq and Switzerland share a positive relationship that continues to strengthen. Switzerland helps Iraq with projects focusing on “migration and peacebuilding” as well as stability. In October 2020, Switzerland established the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Strategy for Swiss focus in the region. Switzerland will follow the strategy until 2024, and thereafter, the plan will be reassessed. The strategy prioritizes five themes:

  1. Peace-building, security and human rights.
  2. Migration and safeguarding vulnerable people.
  3. Sustainable development in the region.
  4. “Economic affairs, finance and science.”
  5. Digitalization and the latest technologies.

In Iraq specifically, Switzerland focuses on “peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need and sustainable development.” Switzerland’s contribution to the WFP covers all three goals as improving local economies is essential to advance these goals.

Urban Livelihoods Projects

Switzerland helps Iraq and the WFP by funding Urban Livelihoods projects that assist “up to 68,000 people in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Wassit.” People who take part in Urban Livelihoods projects receive a cash stipend if they work on community activities such as clearing public areas, renovating schools, planting trees and recycling.

Smallholder farmers from camps for displaced people are also a focus of the projects because farming can serve as long-term income-creating opportunities. Projects increase the cash flow to local economies, which strengthens the economic resilience of entire communities.

In addition to Switzerland, many more countries also support Urban Livelihoods in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The pandemic made the WFP’s projects even more essential as unemployment increased, making Switzerland’s contribution vital. The WFP calls on the international community to collectively contribute $10.1 million in order for the project to reach as many as 300,000 people in Iraq.

Through the commitment and generosity of countries and organizations, vulnerable people in nations such as Iraq can look toward a potentially brighter tomorrow.

Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Job Shortage in IraqGetting a college degree in Iraq doesn’t mean that you have a guaranteed job in your field after graduating, let alone a job in any field. The job shortage in Iraq has led to an increase in poverty and has destroyed the dreams of many graduates. This job shortage is an ongoing conflict that impacts the goals of the young generations in Iraq. According to the World Bank, 22% of men and almost 64% of women between 15-24 years are unemployed in Iraq.

Iraq’s Economy

With billions going yearly to its public service, the nation is in an economic vise. It has been estimated that public employees get about 17 minutes of work done every day. Currently, Iraq is the seventh-largest country producing oil, but oil revenue has been decreasing. The nation spends little of the income it generates on potential economic development of the implementation of projects. Iraq is unable to pay its bills due to a lack of funds. This led to a financial meltdown, which resulted in the fall of the government after widespread movements against corruption and unemployment. The marches were centered against high state officials in a community where unemployment hovers about 15% and one in every four people lives in poverty, earning as little as $2.20 per day.

Youth Unemployment

Approximately 700,000 young Iraqis join the employment market every year. A primer published for the World Bank on job development in Iraq listed the youth unemployment rate at 36%. There is no noticeable difference in the rate of unemployment between young people with primary education and those with higher degrees. Because of this, Iraqi youth have been at the frontline of occupation riots in Iraq. Similar to Iran, the country’s poor budget management and corruption have been central to their outrage.

Iraq’s prosperity is largely dependent on its ability to build employment for the young population. This is particularly true of university-educated young people. A study by the World Bank estimates that Iraq needs to increase the number of jobs by 100 to 180% to address its workforce needs sufficiently.

Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs)

The International Labor Organization (ILO), together with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Iraq (MOLSA), is implementing DWCPs in Iraq. DWCPs are systems for financial guidance that focus on creating jobs through the growth of the private sector. They also assist with the expansion of social security coverage, freedom of association and National Employment Policy design and implementation. In March 2020, in response to a request by MOLSA, the ILO formed the first cooperation department for Iraqi counties in the city of Baghdad. With a budget of $17.5 million, the program is implementing five projects to encourage quality work and increase job opportunities. These projects will help Iraq’s government, employees and employers.

Overall, there are high hopes for the country’s future. The youth are not going to stop demanding change until they get it. With big changes the government is hoping to make in the next decade, there could be a possible decrease in the rate of unemployment.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Rescue Stories from the Nazarene Fund
The Nazarene Fund is an organization that focuses on rescuing people in captivity. This includes victims of sex slavery, the labor trade, organ harvesting and trafficking. The Nazarene Fund trains operators to lead these missions. These operators travel to the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and other regions of the world to rescue people. Here are some of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories.

Sonia’s Story

ISIS captured Sonia and her entire family when she was only 4 years old. Her family lived in Wardya, a village in Sinjar. ISIS abducted them from their home in 2014. Sonia became separated from her siblings. Later, traffickers imprisoned her in Mosul. Additionally, a family bought Sonia in Mosul nine months later. This family treated her as a slave during the five years they held her captive. The family and Sonia disappeared after ISIS’s defeat in Mosul. Thus, the Nazarene Fund launched a search mission for Sonia. Eventually, the organization found her in an orphanage in Mosul and reunited her with her already rescued family.

Halima’s Story

The second of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories has to do with Halima, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman. Traffickers abducted Halima in Turkey. She spent six years in captivity until The Nazarene Fund rescued her in July 2020. ISIS fighters kidnapped Halima and 18 relatives from her village in northern Iraq. Halima was only 16 years old. She was then enslaved and suffered from violence, abuse and exploitation for five years. ISIS made its last territorial stand in Baghuz, Syria in 2019. Moreover, Halima resided there along with other Yazidi women and children. Later, traffickers planned to sell her as a slave or harvest her organs. Fortunately, The Nazarene Fund intervened and reunited her with her family.

Mayada’s Story

Mayada Abo Chehwan is a 50-year-old Syrian woman born in the District of Hama. Her husband is a pharmacist and she has two daughters. However, everything changed when ISIS attacked. Bombs destroyed Mayada’s home and her husband’s pharmacy. As a result, they fled their home and sold their belongings to survive. The family spent months in neighboring towns and in Lebanon. They eventually returned home. However, the shelling of the town forced the family to flee again. Thus, they sought refuge in Iraq.

One of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes and the other with severe anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband became partially paralyzed from heart disease. The daughters experienced sexual harassment and threats that others would sell them sex slavery while they searched for jobs. Mayada was becoming desperate. Thankfully, The Nazarene Fund operatives successfully relocated the family to housing in a safe area and provided them with the care and assistance they needed. The Nazarene Fund operatives continue to support the family and are helping them immigrate to Australia.

These are just a few of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories. The organization strives to help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Its goal is to rescue people who cannot help themselves and assist them in maintaining a safe, healthy life.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
In 2008, Gola told her story of female genital mutilation in Iraq to reporters with The Human Rights Watch. It was a story of silent pain. “My family took me and told me nothing, I never went to the doctors, my family was never concerned.”

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation or FGM has been going on for centuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Iraq’s older generations believe that cutting a woman’s clitoris will ensure the preservation of her virginity and push the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in Iraq. Additionally, the women do not receive any anesthesia beforehand. FGM consists of three types including type one which is the removal of the labia minora and the labia major, the protective layers surrounding the vaginal orifice. Meanwhile, type two is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice. However, all reproductive parts of a woman are important to her maintaining physical and mental health, and expulsion of one or more of these parts puts women’s lives at risk.

FGM is a silent practice that has been going on for decades. Female genital mutilation in Iraq occurs across Iraq without religious, lawful or ethical reasoning. Mutilation begins on girls as young as 3 although grown women may also experience it.

Solutions

Wadi, an NGO, finds solutions for women in crisis. In early 2004, Wadi began visiting villages after learning of the high number of women that FGM affects. After interviewing several women in the area, it found that 907 out of the 1,544 women it questioned were victims of FGM. Wadi has launched a campaign to educate women about the harmful consequences of FGM. In 2011, the parliament of the Kurdish region passed a bill banning domestic violence against women thus banning FGM. However, even though the Kurdish region has banned this practice, women’s voices are continuing to cry out against it to prevent future injustices.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In July 2012, Wadi launched an FGM hotline to provide social, mental, medical and reproductive advice to FGM-affected women throughout the region. By mainstreaming gender rights and working on educational programs, Iraq should be able to make headway to eradicate FGM. To fully eliminate this practice, the Wadi team began to visit local villages and midwives to educate them that these mutilations do not preserve a woman’s virginity, the wounds are not self-healing and the practice causes harm that is often permanent. Hadiya, who experienced FGM at the age of 5-years-old, spoke of pain 20 years after the mutilation occurred. FGM can cause infertility, incontinence, complications in labor and even death.

 

With all endings come new beginnings. Iraq has been the home to unlawful practices and prevalent mistreatment of women, but women are steadily pushing back to reclaim their freedom and honor. Some who have undergone FGM are now refusing to let their daughters experience the same fate, disallowing their clerics from approving practices of FGM. They band together in face of an ancient ritual that tears the body apart. Gola told her story so that women born after her will not have to tell theirs.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Iraq
The Middle East has been one of the world’s hardest-hit regions to date when it comes to COVID-19. Unfortunately, Iraq has bared the brunt of the damage resulting from economic recession and humanitarian woes. Since the summer of 2019, four and a half million Iraqis have fallen into extreme poverty, increasing the total poverty rate to over 11 million. The majority of those falling into poverty are children, with reports claiming two out of every five children in Iraq live in desolate conditions. Nevertheless, despite new challenges, the international community and regional actors are preparing to jump-start new innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Previous Progress

Over the past ten years, Iraq has undergone a series of changes. In 2015, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) outlined a series of initiatives designed to reduce Iraq’s poverty and hunger. From creating job opportunities to building a more robust social safety net, the CFS set the groundwork for crucial innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Additionally, in 2018, Iraq worked with regional and international partners such as the World Bank to introduce a $300 million social fund designed to reduce poverty and inspire sustainable development.

While previous efforts are laudable, in the wake of COVID-19 and the recent economic recession, global and local actors need to do more to reduce Iraqi poverty. This is especially true when considering how, in 2020 alone, Iraqi poverty was expected to double to 40% of the population.

Poverty Reduction Innovations for Refugees

In an effort to reduce poverty in Iraq, many international and regional actors have banded together to create innovative approaches. For instance, the UN Agency on Refugees (UNHRC) recently launched the WASH program. The WASH program sets up water sanitation systems in vulnerable refugee camps, Iraq hosting many of them. According to the UNHRC, “The system uses a series of networked, ultra-sonic water-level sensors that are installed in the tanks of water delivery trucks as well as static water tanks in refugee settlements to provide real-time data on water deliveries and consumption. It is based on the “Internet of Things”. Physical objects are fitted with sensors in order to connect and exchange data over the Internet.

The system maximizes inter-regional coordination and saves Iraq money, all while minimizing the effect of Iraqi poverty. Although widespread across other countries, WAHS chose Iraq as one of the ‘pilot phase’ countries. They are thus allowing Iraq to harness the findings and help one of it’s largest sources of poverty, refugees.

While crumbling infrastructure and lack of access to food are primary causes of poverty, the inability to care for Iraqi refugees has hindered any development progress. In essence, in order to reduce poverty in Iraq, one must also consider poverty amongst Iraqi refugees.

Innovating Through Technology

Another innovation in poverty reduction is a medical app design to connect Iraqis to affordable medications. The military conflict in Iraq has destroyed numerous hospitals, so medical care in the country is exceedingly scarce. This lead Ameen Hadeed and developer Ammar Alwazzan to create the Pharx Pharmacy app. The app connects patients to over 200 Iraqi pharmacies. This eliminates the private medical middle man that makes drugs so expensive. Moreover, the Iraq Response Innovation Lab recently decided to sponsor the future development of the Pharx app. This will allow it to expand all across the country, far beyond urbanized areas such as Mosul.

As technological innovations become more frequent in Iraq, the fight against poverty is a primary focus for tech innovators. Take, for example, Miswag, the Middle East’s oldest online market platform. Miswag has recently taken a new direction in Iraq. They made it more affordable to buy food, groceries, clothing, books, and many other daily necessities. While initially Miswag was not explicitly designed for poverty alleviation, its growing market of 700,000 customers makes goods more affordable while allowing locals to sell their products more efficiently, which helps innovate the fight against poverty.

Looking Forward

Building more robust markets that encourage investment and innovation is crucial to continue poverty reduction in Iraq. It will also ensure sustainable growth for the long-term. Poverty is not a simple problem, and Iraq has weathered many conflicts in the past couple of years. However, if we all work together, we can make a difference.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr