“Children First Now” interview with khayal Ibrahim, member of the central committee of LWPIraq, on the situation of Children in Iraq
Q: you as one of the “Children First Now”s activists recently returning from Iraq. Would you let us know about the situation of Children in Iraq particularly in Baghdad?
Khayal Ibrahim:I would like to tell the readers that the situation in Iraq is very sad, especially for children. Children have no power or control over these brutal conditions. The children in Iraq are very vulnerable and abused by different ways. For example they lack the awareness and knowledge whether at home or at school. Children of poor Iraqi families work hard jobs for long hours. They feel scared by the insecurity and hard living conditions that prevail in Baghdad. The world is not trying to help as the war and terrorism and disintegration of society worsen. Inside the home, with the dominance of Islamic and tribal values and lack of prosperity, children are being beaten and punished physically by the adults of the family while putting these abuses against children as part and parcel of the so-called “traditions”. They are shouted at, humiliated at school by their teachers, slapped and insulted. Many children in Baghdad are illiterate now because they stopped going to school for different with poverty as a main reason. They are pressured to work for their families. Children suffer from different diseases as a result of carelessness and harsh living conditions. Many of the infants are malnutrition and some say the rate today is double the rate of malnutrition of children (under 5 years) during the sanctions imposed by the UN and enforced by the US government back in the nineties. The new government’s factions are very busy fighting for their own interests and never pay any attention to children’s affairs and well being. The products imported to Iraq or manufactured in Iraq are without proper supervision or safety standards, or they are very expensive for millions of children who lack clean and safe water and nutrient foods. Basically there are no programs by the government to insure the welfare of children.
Q: Three years after the U.S. invasion, all we hear is the number of displaced Iraqis is rising daily. News says last month they were 65,000 displaced Iraqis, and are expected to reach 180,000 by mid-June. There has not been a day without bomb attack, suicide truck bombing, and suicide attack. We hardy hear about children living in this circumstance, no news about the child’s welfare, nutrition, health and safety? No news on the child’s Medicare and treatment, about the Child’s education?
Khayal Ibrahim:After the US and British war on the people of Iraq and in most urban areas and cities like Baghdad, explosions became daily facts for millions of people. Children go to schools with tremendous feel of fear and uncertainty. They have no environment for playing and dreaming of a better life. They have no toys or bicycles to play with. They have no parks or green field or even clean streets to walk in, they have the worst living conditions in the world.
The country is occupied and the US and Britain are bombing Iraqi cities, towns and villages on a daily bases leaving hundreds of people dead, injured and scared. People are being dragged from their homes by different militias and “death squads” in front of their children’s eyes. Children as little as 5 or 6 years are working as vendors in the traffic under the hot sun of Baghdad summer. Little girls of 7 – 10 years are working as shoe shiners in the busy and dangerous bus garages and filthy markets.
Other than poverty and its inhumane living conditions caused by war and destruction of civil society there is the abuse of children’s rights as I mentioned. I went to a hospital for a visit. You wouldn’t believe how painful and sad it is to watch a one-year-old boy whose little face was burnt by fried oil while his five-year-old sister is baby-sitting him, cooking for her father in the absence of her mother. There is also the girl who had just turned 13 and decided to burn her self in order to punish her family who had forced her into arranged marriage which has become a common practice in a society totally falling under the mercy of reactionary, Islamic and tribal values. Children can not protect themselves and have no place to go for protection. Children and teenage girls usually decide to put an end to their lives for lack of hope and happiness.
Q: what is happening to the Children without a family or familial care?
Khayal Ibrahim:In cases of children without a family, either the children find themselves alone and therefore leave school and find inappropriate jobs or, play in the street and turn into beggars and vagabonds. In other cases they are adopted by their relatives but treated very harshly and inhumanly. The girls are forced to marry at an early age of 10-11. Children in such cases run through brutal conditions in order to help their mothers or take care of their little brothers and sisters. I know of a 9-years-old boy who works in a traditional bakery store for long hours in a hot weather where temperatures rise to over 48 degrees Celsius. He is ill-treated by his boss and gets beaten up and humiliated for his inexperience. He also works until he is exhausted like a little slave. There are hundreds of examples of children working in garages as mechanic assistants or as street vendors or beggars running after people begging them to buy things or spare little change.
Q: Children First Now receives news regarding Child Trafficking for prostitution and other forms of work? Did you witness or hear of any action to stop this inhuman crime?
Khayal Ibrahim:I don’t know of any child trafficking for prostitution in Iraq but there is the phenomenon called honor killings for women especially among teenage girls. I know of a 13-year-old who had been killed by her uncle in the north of Iraq after she was raped by her step-father and got pregnant. In fact no legal action was taken by the authorities to stop this inhuman crime. The nationalist-tribal local government in the city of Duhok dealt with this crime as “a family dispute” and was “normally” resolved by the brutal killing of the pregnant teenager after she was locked up in a room for some time. Hundreds of girls in the age of 13 and younger were abused by their male family members and pushed into marriage. They are also forced to leave their schools and become house slaves for an adult who rape her and turn her childhood into a nightmare. These actions are not considered crimes but disputes and “problems” in the family that should be dealt with by physical, emotional and financial abuse to the women and children. This is called “our culture and customs” by the male chauvinists in order to keep women and daughters humiliated and submissive.
Q: According to Roger Wright, UNICEF’s Special Representative for Iraq: “The chronic malnutrition rate of children in food insecure households was as high as 33 per cent, or one out of every three children malnourished,” The report also says that Chronic malnutrition affects the youngest and most vulnerable children, aged 12 months to 23 months, most severely. As Mr. Wright stated “This can irreversibly hamper the young child’s optimal mental and cognitive development, not just their physical development,”
What can humanity do in order to protect the Child’s right to life? How can humanity protect this most essential right his/her body and soul from all violence?
Choric malnutrition is due to poverty and unhealthy environment, the percentage of children with asthma and many malnutrition-caused diseases is very high. This is all due to the US war on Iraq. The malnutrition is more than the worst years of economic sanctions as I mentioned before. The world should not take this situation as yet another sad story for some children in a remote country. Human-rights activists, freedom loving people and children’s rights defenders must collectively work to push this issue forward and force their governments in the West to stop the degradation in the children’s health in Iraq. The UNICEF is incapable to solve the problem by itself because the issue is political not purely economic. What I mean is that the new so-called government in Iraq which is a tribal and religious gathering of militias and groups striving to rip off the country and its resources is a cause (not a cure) for this breach of children’s rights. Needless to say that the war between the two poles of terrorism in Iraq; US state and Political Islam is responsible directly for this tragic situation. It is the main cause for the destruction of the society and its civil institutions and therefore, for the health standard of children to further drop. The solution must be political as well as economical and social and we should all participate in the opposition of the current war between the two barbaric camps in order to regain stability and normality of society in Iraq. Of course we should push for UNICEF and other health organization to help the children but this need more. We should join our forces together, all freedom loving people, all humanists, all women liberation activists, children activists, secularists, socialists, all humanity; all join to make another alternative, an alternative that is most viable because it can bring about the civilized people’s will, not only in Iraq but every where in the world. Our efforts can, unlike the US and Political Islam, bring about prosperity, equality and happiness for all because it represents every one and represents people’s aspirations.