We Must Stop Destroying the Children

Situation of Iraqi children much worse than a year ago, UN says
The Associated Press, Published: July 16, 2007

GENEVA: The situation for Iraqi children is getting worse and, in some respects, it was better before the war began, a senior U.N. official said Monday.

“Children today are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago,” said Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children’s Fund. He said Iraqis no longer have safe access to a government-funded food basket, established under Saddam Hussein to deal with international sanctions.

Toole said conditions for women and children in Iraq had worsened significantly since the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, which triggered a wave of sectarian violence and displacement that continues today.

He added that gains made shortly after the U.S. toppled Saddam’s government in 2003, when people were able to move around the country freely and had access to food markets and health centers, had been lost.

“Nutritional indicators, health access indicators are all changing for the worse,” Toole said. He said recently published data showing improvement referred to the situation a couple of years ago and is outdated.

The system of government-sponsored handouts — set up by Saddam’s government to meet the basic needs of Iraqi citizens from 1991 to 2003, when the country was under U.N. sanctions — started to fall apart last year, Toole said.

Apart from shortages of items such as milk and baby milk formula, “the basic Iraqi food basket was fairly secure under the regime because there was food coming in and the government provided the food basket to its citizens,” he said.

Toole could not say whether malnutrition has worsened significantly but he said UNICEF was concerned by reports it has received from refugees fleeing the country.

Toole said that, because of the violence, mothers were too afraid to send their children to school or take them to health centers to get checkups and nutritional supplements.

While efforts are being made to maintain levels of immunization, particularly against measles and polio, UNICEF is worried about the possibility of a cholera epidemic because two-thirds of Iraqis lack clean water. A couple of cases of cholera have been reported in the south of Iraq but so far there has been no major outbreak, Toole said.

He said the agency has so far received no government donations toward a US$41.5 million (€30 million) appeal for its Iraq work through the second half of 2007.


IRAQ: Traumatised Iraqi children suffer psychological damage

BAGHDAD, 16 July 2007 (IRIN) – For two months, Obeid Jaafar Khalifa, 52, has been worrying about how he will cope with looking after his deceased brother’s four children. Obeid already has six of his own children to look after.

“In total, I have to feed 10 children in addition to my wife and me,” said Khalifa, an employee at Iraq’s Agriculture Ministry. He took over responsibility for the children when a car bomb killed their parents five months ago.

The example of Khalil’s nephews highlights the plight of children orphaned by the violence in Iraq. The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) said in its update last week on the plight of Iraqi children that the number of war orphans was rising because of the high civilian death toll.

UNICEF is increasingly concerned that the number of vulnerable children in Iraq has outstripped the country’s capacity to care for them.

“Stressed to the limit”

“Families left to care for children who have lost one or both parents are already stressed to the limit, unable to cope with extra burdens. Many of Iraq’s skilled social workers have been leaving the country,” the report said.

Citing the UN’s civilian casualty figures for 2006 which indicate up to 100 civilian deaths per day, UNICEF said: “Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of children will have lost at least one parent. And if violence continues at current levels, even more will lose a parent in 2007.”

“Such children will be automatically deprived of their rights and are likely to fall into potentially harmful forms of labour,” said Kholoud Nasser Muhssin, a researcher on family and children’s affairs affiliated to the University of Baghdad.

“Some 60-70 percent of Iraqi children in Iraq are suffering from psychological problems and their future is not bright,” Muhssin said.

“Some lost their parents or one of their family members or relatives; others witnessed traumatic events or were subjected to sexual harassment,” Muhssin added.

Psychological toll

“Iraq’s conflict is taking an immense and unnoticed psychological toll on children and youth that will have long-term consequences,” said Bilal Youssif Hamid, a Baghdad-based child psychiatrist.

“The lack of resources means the social impact will be very bad and the coming generations, especially this one, will be aggressive,” Hamid added.

According to UNICEF, half of Iraq’s four million people who have fled their homes since 2003 are children. Many were killed inside their schools or playgrounds and gangs routinely kidnap children for ransom.

Since the beginning of this year, Hamid has treated 310 children and teenagers for psychological problems, most ranging in age from 6 to 16. In the past year he has seen about 750 cases.

WHO survey

Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a survey of 600 children aged 3-10 in Baghdad: 47 percent were found to have been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years.

Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder.

Many of the children Hamid treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning at school.


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