Iraq’s Displaced Children
There are currently over one and a half million children in Iraq who are internally displaced and around 5 million in need of humanitarian assistance. 8% of internally displaced people live in camps in the Kurdish region of Iraq and 92% are spread throughout Iraq in around 3 500 locations and assisted by local host communities who themselves are struggling to meet their basic needs. As unemployment increases and the government social provision shrinks, it is estimated that by the end of the year nearly a third of the population will be in need of humanitarian assistance. Funding for the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 is only 22% secured.
Families are running out of means to survive and in some areas debt has quadrupled. this state of destitution can result in child labour, early marriage and for some female-headed households, begging and prostitution.
72% of Iraqis say that food is their greatest priority and many are dependent on the government Public Distribution Service (PDS). Having to prioritise food means that less money is available for health, education and other needs.
Many displaced people not in camps are being accommodated in mosques, schools and other public buildings. Others live with relatives in very cramped conditions, or squat disused or partially constructed buildings. Some afford private rents but only until their money runs out. Those in flight from IS often find themselves blocked by government check points and have to sleep in the open or in makeshift camps.
In some governates, including Basrah and Najav 80% of IDPs do not have entry permits. This puts children at risk as it makes it more difficult to access vital services and to gain documentation such as birth registration. Equally the suspension of registration in some areas by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration prevents freedom of movement and access to public services or registration for the Public Distribution System. 16% of families report loss of key identity documents again hindering access to education and health services.
Because of the security situation in the country and multiple locations it is difficult for aid organisations to access some of the most vulnerable families.
Iraq’s declining health system and the systematic bombing of hospitals and health clinics in areas of fighting means that many children have access to only minimal healthcare. This is particularly catastrophic for the increasing numbers of children with disability and complex health problems. Their doctors are also displaced and there is no money to pay for treatment.
An estimated 128 000 women are currently pregnant with little or no ante-natal or post-natal care or safe birthing facilities. The increase in children born with congenital deformity is no longer monitored.
Fewer children are immunised and overcrowded living conditions and lack of potable water and sanitation has led to outbreaks of cholera. 6.6 million people are in need of water and sanitation aid.
Most displaced children are out of school. Only one in two have access to schooling in the camps and one in three in living out of the camps. The main reasons for this are lack of money for learning resources and too great a distance to travel. The occupation of many school buildings by displaced people is also preventing the children of host communities attending school. Out of 10 million school aged children in Iraq, 2 million have no access to education. The schools themselves are often in a bad state of disrepair and under resourced.
Access to education gives children some hope for the future and without it there is often despair and the fear of being left behind. Lack of educational opportunity is a key trigger for social tension between host and displaced communities. It is also a major factor in families embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe. Poor, ill-educated youth are more likely to be recruited into the various militias and are often the perpetrators of inter-community violence.
Displaced children are suffering from varying levels of trauma and chronic stress. This results from the often horrendous circumstances that caused their families to flee, dangerous journeys and multiple displacements, and increasingly abuse within the family itself. Adults, overwhelmed by their own trauma, grief and anxiety are unable to give their children the love and reassurance they need. Instead children become the victims of neglect, abandonment and physical and verbal aggression. In some governates only 1% of children have access to the psychosocial support they need. Women and girls also suffer sexual harassment and abuse and either are forced or choose to stay away from public places. This makes them very isolated and susceptible to depression.
While Western governments focus mainly on a military response to IS, the beleaguered people of Iraq are suffering in every way imaginable. The bombing of hospitals, food stores and other civilian infrastructure by the Iraqi government, coalition forces, and IS are war crimes and crimes against humanity, as are the sieges and forced starvation of certain cities. The destruction of ‘liberated’ cities is so extreme that few are able to return.