Iraqi Children: Suffering Greatly
Under Occupation and War
The children of Iraq have been marginalized during the recent
war, but the future of Iraq truly depends on the success of their
During intense periods of conflict, the most vulnerable members
of society often pay the highest cost. The children of Iraq have
had to endure many hardships throughout periods of war and sanctions,
which were exacerbated by 2003 U.S. led invasion. They have had
to help support their families when a parent has died from illness
or injury. Lack of health care and an educational system has increased
the precariousness of their situation. If this situation continues,
Iraq and the world will have to pay the price of a lost generation.
Health Care Issues
• The Washington based research group, Center for Strategic
and International Studies, stated that health care is the most rapidly
deteriorating social service in Iraq. (Washington Post Foreign Service,
• Iraqi doctors are targets for kidnappings and assassinations.
In response to this, the health ministry has recently mailed out
offers to expedite weapon permits for doctors. (Washington Post
Foreign Service, 11-21-2004)
• The violence has kept international aid groups away as
well. (Washington Post Foreign Service, 11-21-2004).
• Malnutrition among the youngest children in Iraq has nearly
doubled to 9 percent in 2005 from 4 percent in 2002, the last year
since Sadaam’s rule.(UNICEF Press Center 11-29-2004 and Reuters,
May 15, 2006.)
• Four hundred thousand Iraqi children are suffering from
"wasting" — a condition marked by chronic diarrhea
and deficiencies in protein. (Washington Post Foreign Service, 11-21-2004).
• The survey discovered that the rate of acute malnutrition
in children under the age of five went from 4 per cent to 7.7 per
cent since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The study was conducted
by Iraq's Health Ministry in co-operation with Norway's Fafo Institute
for Applied International Studies and the UN Development Program.
(Canadian Broadcasting Corp. 11-22-2004.)
• Diarrhea causes 70 per cent of child deaths in Iraq. The
vast majority of cases are caused by unsafe water and in some parts
of Iraq there is still no access to clean supplies. (UNICEF Press
• Iraqi health officials point out that the nutrition issue
facing the previous generation was obesity. They say malnutrition
appeared in the early 1990’s when the US and UN imposed sanctions
on Iraq for invading Kuwait. (Washington Post Foreign Service, 11-21-2004).
• The World Food Program, a UN agency, reported in September
that 6.5 million Iraqis were dependent on food rations. Its program
in Iraq is aimed at providing food to more than 1.7 million children.
Since the World Food Program is responsible for large scale food
distribution in Iraq, some malnutrition is expected. However, the
World Food Program has found the high levels of acute malnutrition
difficult to explain. (Canadian Broadcasting Corp News Online, 11-22-2004.)
• Violence has also driven away international aid agencies,
which provide food and medical help. (Canadian Broadcasting Corp
News Online, 11-22-2004.)
The deteriorating conditions of the Children in Iraq can be partially
blamed on the condition of the infrastructure. Energy sources continue
to be unreliable.
• Access to electricity is often spotty at best, and kerosene
is very expensive. (Washington Post Foreign Service, 11-21-2004).
• The lack of good employment has made it difficult to purchase
fuel and aggravated the health situation of Iraq. (Washington Post
Foreign Service, 11-21-2004).
• The Iraqi government reports that the sewer system is in
disarray due to the water problem. (Washington Post Foreign Service,
• It is estimated that sixty percent of rural residents and
twenty percent of urban residents do not have access to clean water
(Canadian Broadcasting Corp, 11-22-2004.)
The citizens of Iraq, the US, the UN, and the International community
and International Aid agencies are working to improve the conditions
in the country. Hopefully, Iraq will stabilize and eventually be
able to provide services for its citizens. Until that happens, education
for a generation of Iraqi students will be adversely affected or
lost completely due to the state of the current educational system.
• Every day, teachers, children and their parents have to
overcome the fear of bombings, explosions, and kidnappings to get
to work and school. This constant fear undermines the progress in
Iraq. (UNICEF Press Center 10-15-2004.)
• The Children's Parliament on the Right to Education found
in 2000 that 1 out of 4 Iraqi children between six and twelve were
not enrolled in school, nearly four times the average in the Arab
world. (San Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004).
• UNICEF reports that the Iraqi school system is overwhelmed
due to poor sanitation facilities, crumbling walls, broken windows,
and leaky roofs. The Iraqi ministry of education reports that one-third
of all primary schools have no water supply and one half has no
sanitation facilities. (UNICEF Press Center 15 October 2004.)
• Each school has cost an average of US $50,000 to rehabilitate.
UNICEF has rehabilitated 225 schools and has plans for 400 more.
UNICEF is helping to repair water and sanitation facilities in 1,000
schools around Iraq. (UNICEF Press Center 9-7-2004.)
• On a positive note, overall enrollment has gone up by 700,000,
but there are not enough schools to meet the demand. 11,368 out
of 14,000 named schools are open to students. (UNICEF Press Center
15 October 2004.)
• Twenty-five percent of the schools in Iraq are running
two or three shifts per day to meet the demands. This reduces the
class time for each shift of students. Roger Wright of UNICEF calls
the decay a result of the three wars and sanctions. (UNICEF Press
Center 15 October 2004.)
• The enrollment of boys versus girls has stayed consistent
with the pre-war ratios. Safety and sanitation are the reasons cited
for the lack of female enrollment. (UNICEF Press Center 15 October
• UNICEF reports that Iraq had one of the finest school systems
in the Middle East prior to the sanctions and the three wars starting
with Iran-Iraq War. (UNICEF Press Center 15 October 2004.)
The rehabilitation process has been slowed by the security situation.
The UN, NGOs, and the private sector continue to rehabilitate schools
and conduct training sessions to help the Iraqi children receive
the education they deserve.
An Iraqi mother of six, Wafa Abdul Jabbar, lost her arm in a bomb
blast last year, but she is determined to get all of her children
educated and prepared for the future. Abdul Jabbar almost lost her
youngest child to malnutrition, and the other children had to help
care for the baby. The violence of the war has increased family
responsibilities that must be shared by children, making it hard
for them to find time to go to school. (UNICEF Press Center 15 October
Years of war have devastated the Iraqi economy. The conflicts have
killed off many of the family’s bread winners. Children have
been forced to take up where their fallen parents left off in supporting
their families. One of the top reasons given for the U.S. led invasion
in 2003 was to end forced child labor. Unfortunately, lack of economic
stability has caused the number of working children to rise. Exact
statistics are not known because violence keeps researchers from
• The International Labor Organization estimated that there
were 66,000 children working in Iraq in 2000. (San Francisco Chronicle
• UNICEF estimates that 15% of children between the ages
of 5 and 14 must work in the Middle East and Northern Africa region.
(San Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004).
• Iraqi children must work, go to school, or try to do both.
Some of the children attend middle school during the day and then
work 7+ hours at night for little pay. The only time they have for
study is when business is slow. Working in a war-torn country is
very unsafe for children. They are often caught in the middle of
violent conflict while trying to support their families. (San Francisco
Iraq does have laws protecting child labor.
• Children under the age of fifteen are barred from working,
and there are strict safety regulations regarding workers over 15.
(San Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004).
• Children must receive at least 1/3 of the adult salary
and may not work more than seven hours per day. (San Francisco Chronicle
Even though the laws exist, they are rarely adhered to. This fact
is noted by the Iraqi Labor Ministry but, due to the constant conflict,
little can be done.
• Children are employed as shop hands, waiters, and car wash
employees. Most of the children come from single family homes where
one parent was lost to the war. (San Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004).
• Constant work not only compromises a child’s ability
to learn, but also their ability to dream about the future (San
Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004). It is often said that the children
are the future, but without the ability to dream, the future for
Iraq’s children looks bleak.
Iraqi children are adversely affected by the lack of a formal legal
system dealing with labor and parental support.
• In cases of divorce or abandonment, little can be done
to force delinquent parents to pay support their families. The legal
system does not exist to enforce the rule of law. (San Francisco
Children in Custody
Due to the instability of the country, juvenile crime has become
a problem in Iraq. Without an established juvenile justice system
children serve time and await trial in adult prisons. Some Iraqi
children are being detained by coalition forces in Iraq under suspicion
of “alleged activities targeting the occupying forces.”
(Christian Science Monitor, csmonitor.com, 8-4-2004)
• The Sunday Herald of Scotland reported many children are
being held in a special wing at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
(Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• There have been allegations of abuse and rape of imprisoned
children. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• The Baghdad Karkh prison warden told IRIN that anyone accused
of abuse (of adults or children) is investigated and can be fired.
(Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• US Sgt. Samuel Provance told German TV that children were
sometimes abuse to force their parents to give information to coalition
forces. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• IRINnews.org, an information website run by the United
Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports
that “access to child detainees is difficult and human rights
groups are concerned about their welfare…”(Christian
Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• IRIN reports that there are 150 children at the Karkh prison
in Baghdad, the children are between 9 and 18. They are convicted
of crimes or awaiting trial. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• The Karkh prison warden told IRIN that some of the children
are being held for serious crimes. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• 30 of the children are in prison for killings, mostly family
members. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• 34 are being held for armed robbery. (Christian Science
• Children between 9 and 14 are held separately from the
aged 15 to 18. (Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
• All of the child detainees came in after the 2003 US invasion.
(Christian Science Monitor, 8-4-2004)
Violence, poor health, instability in the homes and schools along
with the lack of work and food has made the Iraqi children’s
situation an emergency. In order to make a sovereign Iraq sustainable,
the unstable situations that encourage the growth of terrorism must
be normalized. Good social service institutions will greatly aid
security in the region. War has often been looked upon as an efficient
way to stabilize a country. However, in the case of Iraq, the day-to-day
lives of ordinary citizens have gotten much worse before they have
begun to improve. We urge governments to think of the Iraqi children
when aiding in Iraq’s reconstruction and to learn from this
experience when planning strategies to free people of oppressive
situations in future conflicts.
United Nations NGO (non-govermental organization) Working
Group on Iraq