Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Slaughterhouse Jobs Hard on Kids

Child labour laws being flouted in Sulaimaniyah’s slaughterhouses.
By Barham Omer

For the children who work in the slaughterhouses of southwestern Sulaimaniyah’s Animal Square, blood stained clothing and unpleasant odours go with the territory.

“When we go home we have to wash right away, because we smell bad and no one can sit near us, especially on buses,” said 15-year-old Khalid Hassan.

He’s one of the around 100 children aged nine to 17 who gather daily in the square, vying for jobs draining blood from animals after their throats have been cut.

The children are hired to blow into a second opening made in the leg, forcing the blood out of the animal’s throat and causing it to blow up like a balloon, giving the practice its name – puffing.

Butcher Ibrahim Sadiq said his customers consider freshly killed meat to be more flavourful and that 50 animals are butchered at the square some days.

The children carry sharp knives with them as part of their job, and sometimes fights break out over payment or who gets the next animal.

Ali Ibraheem, who is in charge of the child protection sector at Kurdistan Save the Children, said the exposure to the daily killings on Animal Square is harmful.

“Seeing the slaughtering of all these animals has a bad effect and makes violence seem like it is something normal for the children," he said.

Rizgar Ali, an inspection manager at the city’s health department, also worries about the effects of the slaughterhouse work on the children’s health. “It causes asthma, hernias and sometimes the children bleed under the whites of their eyes,” he said.

Karwan Ghedan, 16, suffered vomiting and severe coughing when animal flies went down his throat. “I have got flies in my throat four times, and it made me very sick,” he said.

The slaughterhouse bosses also often flout Iraqi labour laws, which forbid children under 16 from working.

Twelve-year-old Kocher Salih said he needs the 2,000 dinars (1.40 US dollars) he can make each day to help support his family. “I have learned how to slaughter animals,” said Salih. “I hope I will be able to open a butchery shop when I grow up.”

Sabir Ismael, acting labour minister for Sulaimaniyah, said the ministry is working to resolve the problem and educate families about child labour. He added that the government is also providing financial aid to 55,000 poor or disabled residents.

Despite the dangers and difficult conditions, it remains money that draws the youthful slaughterhouse workers back to the square. “With all this fatigue, they don’t give you enough money to keep you happy,” said Barhem Fayaq, 15, as he headed off in search of another job.

Barham Omer is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.