Iranian-backed groups exploiting children in Syria’s Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor countryside

DEIR EZ-ZOR, Syria (North Press) – Every morning, Muhammad al-Dakal, a minor from the Syrian government-held city of Madan in the southeast Raqqa countryside, headed to a construction workshop in order to make money to secure a living for his mother and two younger siblings.

Following ten hours of work, he returns to home wearing muddy clothes and gives his daily wage of 2500 Syrian pounds (SYP) to his mother.

Al-Dakal’s case is similar to those of his peers, who are working in construction workshops for low wages in the government-held areas in both the eastern countryside of Raqqa and western countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

Iran-backed groups, including Liwa Fatemiyoun and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, resort to child labor in construction workshops, where they are paid low wages in comparison with those of older laborers and specialists, according to workshop owners and local residents.

In light of deteriorating living conditions, people accuse these groups of exploiting minors and involving them within workshops constructing headquarters, posts, and offices belonging to the groups in those areas.

In late 2017, government forces and Iranian-backed groups took control over the city of Madan in addition to other towns and villages in the southern countryside of Raqqa after expelling the Islamic State (ISIS).

Al-Akirashi area, 18 kilometers from Raqqa to the east, separates Syrian government-held areas south of Raqqa from those of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Deteriorating living conditions

Previously, child labor in the western countryside of Deir ez-Zor and the eastern countryside of Raqqa was limited to stalls and shops; however, as a result of the deteriorating living conditions, minors are working in arduous professions beyond their physical capacity. 

The daily wages of children working in construction workshops are between 2,000 and 2,500 SYP, while those of adult workers are between 3,000 and 5,000 SYP, according to Ali al-Abdullah, a construction worker from the town of al-Tebni in the west Deir ez-Zor countryside. 

Maram al-Ahmed, al-Dakal’s mother, said that her son, who is the only breadwinner for her and his siblings, has been working with others in a construction workshop to recondition a headquarters for Liwa Fatemiyoun since mid-May.

Members of Liwa Fatemiyoun are trying to convince her son to work in other construction and restoration workshops in different Syrian cities in exchange for monthly 85,000 SYP, the mother pointed out.

However, the mother refused, fearing her son may never return home.

Local residents mentioned that children mainly work in restoration workshops of the cultural center, husseiniya (Shi’ite religious center) of Ahl al-Bayt, al-Nujaba recruitment office, and the military police headquarters in al-Sabkha in the eastern countryside of Raqqa.

The western countryside of Deir ez-Zor, is a stronghold of Iranian-backed groups; a military headquarters, a Liwa Zainebiyoun recruitment office, and financial office of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba can be found in the town of al-Tebni.

Recruiting within their ranks

In each construction workshop, there are either two or four minors working as assistants for other workers, Hamza al-Younis, a supervisor in a workshop in al-Tebni said.  

Working hours differ from one workshop to another; some work for eight hours and others work more in order to accomplish the work quickly, according to al-Younis.

Iranian-backed groups are trying to “attract children who are working to secure their families’ needs by providing them with monthly food aid in order to recruit them within their military ranks,” Mahmud Abduljalil, a worker from the city of Madan, said.

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba distributes relief aid to children working within workshops, Jasem Abdulaziz, a worker participating in the construction works of the Iranian Cultural Center in Madan in al-Sanaka neighborhood, told North Press.

Harakat al-Nujaba is seeking to attract children in order to recruit them within their ranks by offering them aid and taking care of them during work by offering meals and breaks during lunch time at work, al-Aziz elaborated.

Reporting by Ahmed al-Mosa