Although the statistics regarding child poverty in Iraq are exceedingly high, specific foundations aimed at finding solutions for this ever-growing issue (particularly, in a post-2020 world) are fairly difficult to come by. The COVID-19 pandemic created even more barriers to education, success and safety for children in Iraq, but the groups that do exist are working to shrink these numbers.
COVID-19’s Effect on Child Poverty in Iraq
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically complicated the lives of Iraq’s youngest population in poverty, subjecting parents to make difficult decisions about the education and safety of their children.
About 4.5 million Iraqi citizens fell into poverty after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This extreme increase in numbers has led to “[l]osses to jobs and rising prices[,]” and the national poverty rate is now sitting at 31.7%. Because of this increase, the amount of children that live below the poverty line has almost doubled.
The combination of “low computer ownership, limited access to internet and poor connectivity” had left millions of children without education during the earliest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who could access their classwork, however, were also not receiving adequate education because their educators struggled with similar issues and failed to connect with their students. Following the economic impact of the pandemic, many families in Iraq are sending their children to work or, in more extreme cases, marrying them off in order to gain any form of protection or currency for themselves or their children.
Child Poverty in Iraq and its Connection with Sex Trafficking
Hardships, whether stemming from lack of resources, money, or education, left many children circulating in the ring of sex trafficked victims.
Due to Iraq’s large population, its staggering number of children (47%) are consistently at a greater risk of sexual exploitation. Some children resort to “survival sex” in an attempt to break free from the cycle of abuse that they experience. Examples of “survival sex” include superiors forcing young boys to grant them sexual favors to earn their work wages. Families that find themselves below the poverty line can, in an attempt to “protect” their daughters, marry them off in order to receive a “bride price,” or “an amount of money, property or other form of wealth ‘paid’ to the parents of a woman for the right to marry their daughter.”
The Iraqi Children Foundation
The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) is an organization that aims to eradicate these issues. Its mission “to intervene with love and hope in the lives of children who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation by [criminals], traffickers, and extremists,” is possible by providing accessible resources to struggling families. The ICF aims to give every Iraqi child a voice and to restore their sense of worth.
A pair of Americans who worked to provide basic necessities for disadvantaged Iraqi children founded the Iraqi Children Foundation in 2007. Since its creation, the ICF continues to hold an abundance of annual events in order to raise funds and awareness towards the issues facing the population of children in Iraq. In 2022, the Foundation celebrated 10 years of its In Their Shoes 5K, where hundreds of participants walked in Washington, DC to support the benefit project. The ICF’s Annual Report relays that 2021 was its most successful year thus far, nourishing more than 500 children and protecting thousands from abuse and child labor.
– Aspen Oblewski