First-person perspectives on the world of work
Photo: Yasir Ahmad Salim
Child labour

I had to stop school and go to work because of COVID-19

My name is Akram. I am 14 years old. I have three brothers and I am the fourth. I also have three sisters.  I live with my parents in Mosul. Life is hard. My parents are poor. In Mosul, all families are in the same situation. They are all poor and tired. There is no work. Our situation is very difficult.

I used to have lots of friends, we used to have fun and play together. But after the war, they were gone. We got separated as we had to move. 

Before, when I went to school, I saw my friends and my teachers and I was happy. But then our situation became desperate. The COVID-19 pandemic started and my father was not able to work. Our financial situation was very bad. This is what made me work. I had to help my father. I left school and I started collecting scrap metal and selling it.

My biggest challenge in life is collecting scrap metal. It affects my body. My bones hurt and my leg hurts.

When I was little I broke my leg. This is something I will never forget. I still think about it. I had platinum inserted in my leg. I have difficulty sleeping at night because my leg hurts.

I cannot carry anything too heavy because it hurts my leg. But I carry metal and metal is heavy, so often I cannot carry it. I get tired when I work.

My biggest challenge in life is collecting scrap metal. It affects my body. My bones hurt and my leg hurts.

AkramStudent and child labourer

Recently I returned to school. I go to school in the morning and then I come home and do some homework for an hour. In the afternoon I work for four hours. I collect scrap metal with my father and then I go home. My father also sells second-hand clothes and sometimes I help him at the stall.

I am happy to see my friends and my teachers again. 

At school I like biology the most, because it’s taught me about human anatomy. I’ve liked learning about lungs and other parts of the body. It’s helped me explore and learn more so that when I grow up - if I succeed, God willing - I can become a doctor.

Akram sits in an empty room, furnished with  a carpet and a little table, and does his homework.

I do my homework at lunchtime before heading out to work.

© Abdulla Albakry

When I am free and I don’t have to work, I like to garden.  I also like to fish, play football and go swimming.   Before COVID-19, we used to go to the beach. This is where I learnt how to swim.

My sports hero is the football player Cristiano Ronaldo.  He has many talents and ambitions.  He is very athletic.  That’s why I like him. 

My favourite TV show is a game show called “My Family Wins”.

A close-up of Akram’s hands either side of a plant he has just planted.

I like to grow plants and garden.

© Yasir Ahmad Salim

What would I say to other children in child labour? I think children shouldn’t work. They are still young and haven’t yet prepared for their future. They should study and look after their future. 

I hope that my siblings and I can continue studying and graduate and receive our diplomas.

If I don’t become a doctor, I would also like to be a teacher so that I can teach other children how to read and write, and help them build their future.

Children, including Akram, raise their hands in a classroom and face the teacher who stands in front of a white board.

I hope I can stay in school.

© Yasir Ahmad Salim

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