At the Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Minister Leyla Abdul Latif says one of the biggest problems her department faces today is unemployment, with an estimated 50 percent of the population out of work.
In addition, the ministry oversees a wide variety of social programmes, including running orphanages and elderly homes around the country, as well as dealing with controversial resettlement issues.
In an interview with IRIN, Latif said while there were a number of wide ranging issues to be dealt with at hand, she hoped there would be some progress on social issues soon in the troubled country.
QUESTION: What are the biggest social problems in Iraq today?
ANSWER: Iraq’s biggest issue now is its incapability to help jobless people find chances to work, especially those who have registered in our centres. We also have many social problems, especially with people who are coming back to Iraq after living and working in other countries. Finally, we have to convince people who took over government buildings for houses that they have to leave. We have a big increase in the number of beggars and the number of children who don’t go to school. A large number of people live under the poverty line. We are very worried about the psychological stability of people.
Q: Do you have solutions to these problems?
A: One of the most practical remedies is that the government should be able to help people more, especially to find jobs. Private companies should be contacted since the government doesn’t offer as many jobs since the fall of the regime. This would absorb some of the jobless problem. In addition, we need the security situation to improve. Iraq is a rich country and its population is not too large to take care of itself. We can manage by ourselves.
Q: How does Iraq handle unemployment?
A: We currently have a project for vocational training. We will build 10 new centres for work in all of the governorates that don’t currently have such centres. In addition, we will build vocational training centres in places such as Hillah, Diwaniya, Samawah, Salahadin, Anbar, Diyala, Karbala and Sulaymaniah. The work centres are places where people can register to look for a job. The vocational centres are places where people can learn a new trade, such as wood working.
Q: As you deal with orphanages, what is the situation of these children?
A: It’s a complex issue to explain - not only are children starving in Iraq, but many people in the lower social classes are also going hungry because of the circumstances. Even though Iraq has many resources, such as oil, those resources have become a curse rather than a prosperous blessing. For example, many children have to work hard now, because their parents cannot provide for them. The children provide all of the money for the family, so they don’t have time to go to school.
Q: What is your budget for social programmes?
A: Our programme is to give a salary to poor families according to the Law of Social Treatment No. 126, which was approved by the government in 1980. This law covers the following: old men and women who can’t work because of their age; widows or divorced women who have children; orphans; families who have pensions; and the blind. However, we do not have a determined budget yet. The ministry is responsible for arranging and carrying out all of the fields mentioned and checking lists of these people every few months to make sure they are correct.
Q: How is the money distributed to the people on the lists?
A: Once we verify the names on the lists, they are submitted to the Ministry of Finance for approval. We have more than 100,000 families who receive about 30,000 Iraqi dinars, (about US $200) per month.
Q: Now that Iraq is moving in a new direction, do you have new goals?
A: We had wars for two decades in the 20th century. This means that a large number of Iraq people are widows; the number of divorces increased and the number of orphans increased. Wars also mean that there is an increased number of handicapped people who can’t do any work. There is a weakness in the social system because of the political instability. This leads to increased bad behaviour. In addition, more people get divorced. More [single] women got married because they had social or financial problems. We should also address the increasing number of street children - it seems more are begging now.
Q: With which aid agencies do you currently work with?
A: We get aid from the International Labour Organization (ILO) to train our employees who are responsible for vocational training through courses inside and outside the country. We receive aid from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to train our employees on management. They have also supplied the ministry with furniture and computers. The United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF) pays for some of our local NGO groups for training people to develop their organisational capabilities. Other international organisations did some rehabilitation and maintenance of the institution for the deaf and dumb in Baghdad, supplied some furniture and also gave them a car.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: We want to continue working to rehabilitate damaged houses so that we can return government buildings currently occupied by homeless families back to government offices. We want to change and amend our social laws to make them more flexible to handle changes happening in Iraq. We want to train our employees to do their best and learn modern management methods.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions