BAQUBA - Iraq's children have been more gravely affected by the U.S. occupation
than any other segment of the population.
The United Nations estimated that half a million Iraqi children died during
more than 12 years of economic sanctions that preceded the U.S. invasion of
March 2003, primarily as a result of malnutrition and disease.
But childhood malnutrition in Iraq has increased 9 percent since then, according
to an Oxfam International report released last July.
A report from the non-governmental relief organization Save the Children shows
Iraq continues to have the highest mortality for children under five. Since
the first Gulf War, this has increased 150 percent. It is estimated that one
in eight children in Iraq dies before their fifth birthday: 122,000 children
died in 2005 alone. Iraq has a population of about 25 million.
According to a UN Children's Fund report released this month, "at least
two million Iraqi children lack adequate nutrition, according to the World Food
Program assessment of food insecurity in 2006, and face a range of other threats
including interrupted education, lack of immunization services, and diarrhea
IPS interviewed three children from different districts of Baquba, the capital
city of Iraq's volatile Diyala province, 25 mi. northeast of Baghdad.
Firas Muhsin is seven and lives in Baquba with his mother. His father was killed
two years ago by militants who shot him in his shop.
Firas attends school four hours every day near his house. On rare occasions
he gets to play with neighbors' children, but always under the eyes of his mother.
Firas is allowed to move no more than ten meters from the house; his mother
is afraid of strangers. Kidnapping of Iraqi children is common now, and many
are believed to have been sold as child laborers or as sex workers.
Iraqi officials and aid workers have recently expressed concern over the alarming
rate at which children are disappearing countrywide in Iraq's unstable environment.
Omar Khalif is vice-president of the Iraqi Families Association (IFA), an NGO
established in 2004 to register cases of the missing and trafficked. He told
reporters in January that on average at least two Iraqi children are sold by
their parents every week. In addition, another four are reported missing every
"The numbers are alarming," Khalif said. "There is an increase
of 20 percent in the reported cases of missing children over a year."
Firas spends hours each day sitting at the door looking at people. The door
is his only outlet. In the afternoon, his mother calls him inside to do his
homework. After dinner, his big hope is to watch cartoons if there is electricity
from their private generator.
The mother faces a shortage of kerosene needed just for heating. "My children
feel cold, and I cannot afford kerosene," she told IPS.
Many children Firas' age do not get to school at all. According to the UN,
17 percent of Iraqi children are permanently out of primary school, and an estimated
220,000 more are missing school because they and their families have been displaced.
That adds up to 760,000 children out of primary school in 2006.
These are in-country figures and do not include the hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi children and youth whose education is interrupted or ended because their
families have fled to other countries. UNHCR estimates that at least 2.25 million
Iraqis have fled their country.
Qusay Ameen is five and lives with his mother, father, two sisters, and a brother.
His father was a sergeant in the former military and is now unemployed. He receives
a monthly pension of $110. He tries to support the family by selling cigarettes
on the roadside. Qusay's mother is a housekeeper. Qusay hopes to begin school
next year when he turns six.
After breakfast, always something simple like fried tomato with bread, Qusay
wants to play, but he has nothing to play with but a small broken plastic car
his brother found near the neighbor's door. He spends most of the morning playing
with this car. He seems happiest when he gets to visit his neighbor's house,
because they have a swing in the garden.
Like most Iraqi children now, Qusay has grown used to being in need. He rarely
gets sweets or new clothes.
The family house is incredibly small one bedroom and a place used as both
kitchen and bathroom. Everyone sleeps in one room, which is extremely cold through
the winter months. There are not enough beds or covering, and everyone has to
sleep close together for warmth.
The house has few basic necessities, and of course no television or useful
household appliances. There is a small kerosene cooker used for both cooking
According to the UN Children's Fund, only 40 percent of children nationwide
have access to safe drinking water, and only 20 percent of people outside Baghdad
have a working sewerage service. About 75,000 children are among families living
in temporary shelters.
Ali Mahmood, 6, has lived with his uncle in Baquba since his parents were killed
by a mortar explosion two years ago in random shelling by militants. Next year
he will join primary school near his uncle's house.
Ali's days are alike, and quiet. His only friends are his uncle's children.
When they go to school, he simply spends his time alone. It does seem the uncle's
family is not able to look after him as well as his own might have. His uncle
Thamir is doing his best, but life is difficult, and Thamir is responsible for
a big family.
Ali is deprived of just about everything in childhood; he has no place to play
or things to play with. And he has nobody to think of his future.
And already, he has responsibilities waiting; he has been told he must take
care of his younger brother when he grows up.
Firas, Qusay, and Ali are all children, but not the way children should be.
(Inter Press Service)