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Perspectives on Iraq

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 development.

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, 11-21-2004)

• 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 Center 11-30-2004.)

• 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).

Food Issues

• 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.)

Infrastructure Issues

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, 11-21-2004).

• 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.)

Education Issues

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 2004.)

• 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 2004.)

Economic and Labor Issues

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 obtaining data.

• The International Labor Organization estimated that there were 66,000 children working in Iraq in 2000. (San Francisco Chronicle 10-25-2004).

• 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 Chronicle 10-25-2004).

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 10-25-2004).

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 Chronicle 10-25-2004).

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 Monitor, 8-4-2004)

• 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

Health Care Issues

Food Issues

Infrastructure Issues

Education Issues

Economic and Labor Issues

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