A number of reports have appeared over the last few days that place the supposed “success” in Iraq in stark contrast with the reality. Just as during the long years of sanctions it was the children of Iraq who suffered the most from our disastrous policies, today – again – they suffer even more.
Yesterday, Aswat Al Iraq reported that:
Iraq’s anti-corruption board revealed on Saturday that there were five million Iraqi orphans as reported by official government statistics, urging the government, parliament, and NGOs to be in constant contact with Iraq’s parentless children.
As Khalil Ibn Hussein of GorillasGuides notes:
That is the figure the green zone government admits to, the real figure is a lot higher as many orphans are taken in by relatives and not registered, nor does the figure include the children with "only" one parent dead.
And, as Aswat Al Iraq reported earlier this week, these children live with severe trauma:
Unlike orphans in many countries in the world, most Iraqi orphans lost their parents around the same time and under horrible circumstances. In addition to their desire for compassion and care, those children need to overcome their sad memories and make a new beginning in life.
Recounting her traumatic memories, Halima, a nine-year-old girl who is living in a public orphanage, said that she lost her parents in a blast that ripped through a local market in a Baghdad neighborhood.
«We were shopping in a popular market in Baghdad al-Jadida neighborhood when a car bomb detonated. I still recall how bodies turned into charcoal,» Halima told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
Even those children with families who have managed to flee Iraq as refugees to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere (and these are often the families with the most financial resources) are facing devastating conditions:
"I have a 13-year-old who can’t read or write," said Azhar al Haidari, 47, an Iraqi who can afford to send only two of her four children to school in Damascus. "It destroys me. He needs to start from A-B-C, but he’s too embarrassed. He says he’s too old to learn now."
Haidari and her unemployed husband rely on their sons, Bassam, 13, and Ayman, 14, to bring in cash by doing odd jobs for shopkeepers. After household expenses, the couple can just barely pay school costs for their daughters, Mary, 8, and Inam, 11.
Haidari said Bassam was so jealous of his sisters’ ability to read and write that he stormed out of the apartment if he saw them with books.
"The other day, I was going over dictation with the girls and Bassam started yelling at me, ‘What’s the difference between me and an animal?’ " Haidari said. "He quits jobs on the spot when they ask him to fill out forms. He’s humiliated. He feels he has no future."
Along with the lack of access to education, Iraq’s refugee children face the most basic threats to survival:
Some 10 percent of the children of families surveyed are working. Iraqi children continue to fall behind in education with 46 percent of those surveyed reporting their children have dropped out of school.
The study also highlighted that 17 percent of those surveyed suffer from chronic illnesses, with 19 percent unable to take medication due to financial constraints. The research highlights the well-educated profile of the refugee population with 31 percent having a university degree.
And noting that the majority of refugees were fleeing the US “surge” (Of the refugees polled, 78 percent said they’d come from Baghdad, which has been the focus of military operations since the U.S. troop buildup began last February. Thirty-five percent said they’d fled between July and October, when U.S. troop strength peaked.) UN representatives note that conditions are growing ever more desperate:
“We’ve seen the poorest of the poor here,” [Sybella Wilkes, the Damascus-based U.N. spokeswoman on refugee issues] said. “We’re seeing more homelessness, child labor, survival sex, early marriage and temporary marriage. The floodgates opened in 2006, and the Iraqis who’ve come since then have been much poorer” than earlier waves of refugees.
As we head towards the holidays here, let’s make sure we take the time to remember the children of Iraq and speak up on their behalf. Donations to the Red Crescent are one good way to help – so is your continued work to end the occupation – now.
Update: Laura Doty points us to the news of the killing of another Iraqi reporter two days ago – a sad note to our discussion earlier today about Reporting Iraq. The details can be found here at Alive in Baghdad.
Update: Erdla of the GorillasGuides team has noted a charity which works with Iraqi orphans – Islamic Relief USA (a Charity Navigator 4 star charity) and Al Yateem (which is associated with Islamic Relief)