The Marginalisation of Paperless Children in Iraq

Right to Education
Internally Displaced People

The education sector in Iraq has struggled for decades as a result of sanctions imposed on the country following its invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and then later, during the American-led invasion and subsequent  occupation in 2003. The flare-up of violence following the incursion of the Islamic State (IS) between 2014 and 2017 further exacerbated these problems As of the end of 2019 there still remains 340,000 out of school children in Iraq, with many also having missed years of education due to being displaced from areas formerly controlled by IS. Many children that were born in territories previously occupied by IS lack sufficient documentation required to attend school. Additionally, restrictions placed on parents that were affiliated with IS have  resulted in the inability to access education for their children.  

Even after the liberation by Iraqi security forces concluded in June 2017, the resulting mass  displacement has continued to be a barrier to access for children in these areas. Wider restrictions  were placed upon families that were perceived to have previously worked with ISIS, further limiting access to education. At times, the Iraq security forces have even banned returnees from entering some  areas as a type of collective punishment for having apparent affiliations with ISIS. 

A mural of children playing on the side of a city building.Families' lack of documentation for their children also acts as a barrier to accessing education as it is required by the state to attend school. These documents include tests from previous schools and birth certificates, which were absent for 45,000 IDP children living in displacement camps in 2019. Additionally, many people can’t renew their  documents as some Civil Affairs Directorate Offices were damaged or destroyed and the distance to offices that are open is sometimes too great, or the danger too high for many IDP’s to make the journey.  Overall, around 460,000 children are missing national identity cards in Iraq, many of whom are in the post ISIL  governorates.  

For families that have perceived association with ISIL, access to education is denied by the state on  security grounds. Many of these families live in IDP camps and face severe restrictions on their  movement, coupled with the fact that they are segregated within the camps and have restricted access  to civil documentation which would enable them to move in and out of the camps and for their children to access education. This creates a gap in education for thousands of children that are already vulnerable to radicalisation and now have a reason to despise the state, which is a threat to social cohesion.  

This danger, if left to fester, will create a generation of lost youth that will have disdain for the  government. If we think about the drivers that are associated with radicalisation, then we can further  examine how paperless children present a future problem for the security of Iraq. There are many push and pull factors for extremism such as an identification with collective grievances and narratives of  victimization. Being shut out from the state apparatus coupled with the potential for a charismatic  leader to manipulate these narratives, leads to a pull factor for paperless children as they grow up  outside of the education system.

Marginalisation and discrimination based upon their potential links to ISIL, together with violations of basic human rights (I.e. their access to education), intertwined with the backdrop of prolonged conflict, creates many push factors for these children to turn against the state with the  potential for violence to erupt.  

A mural on the side of a city building.Although measures were put into place in 2018 by the Ministry of Education to combat this, a number of  educational officials all over northern Iraq were unaware of this directive. A potential solution to this would first be to ensure that all schools are issued the same decree to allow undocumented children  to attend school, thus ensuring that the right to education is fulfilled. A second, more long-term, solution would be to issue documentation to those children so that they will not face future problems accessing other rights and social services, such as health. Although, due to previous potential links with ISIL, many authorities in Iraq are reluctant to do this. 

Education can be a driving force for the prevention of extremism, if used in the correct way. Education that challenges these narratives and creates an environment of inclusion and resilience fosters children that will become active participants within their local communities. Educators  will need to pay special attention to learners as they navigate their own sense of identity within these  communities. This can be done by developing skills such as empathy and acceptance that directly challenge prejudice in order to bridge gaps in divided communities. Schools are a place of socialisation, giving access to those currently without and establishing a safe and supportive  environment, will not only mitigate prexisiting community cleavages but also help students to excel academically.  


About the Author

Michael Jones headshotMichael is a teacher who has been living in Iraq for nearly three years, first in Erbil and now in Baghdad.  He has a master’s in Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies and is currently studying a second master’s in Development Education at University College London. His research focuses on Education, International Development and Global Citizenship, particularly how education is  positioned in the peacebuilding process in Iraq.



The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.