UNICEF’s A Heavy Price for Children report found one in five (3.6 million) children in Iraq are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups.
The report also revealed that the number of children in danger of these violations has increased by 1.3 million in 18 months.
It described Iraq as “one of the most dangerous places in the world for children.”
The report verified the deaths of more than 800 children since 2014, but said the actual number could be much higher. Hundreds more have been injured.
Children caught in ‘spiral of violence, abuse, exploitation, despair’
Jeffrey Bates, chief of communications for UNICEF Iraq, said the number of 3.6 million counted “children at immediate risk of grave violations including abduction, types of gender-based or other types of violence, being caught up in the front lines, recruited as child soldiers.”
“These children are in circumstances where there are no protection mechanisms in place,” Mr Bates said.
“The community systems that would traditionally provide protection have been broken down by the conflict.
“If we don’t act now, if the world community doesn’t come together and support the communities, the government, to put these systems in place, then the violence, which is going to get much worse before it gets better, is going to continue and these children are going to get caught in this spiral of violence, abuse, exploitation, and despair.”
UNICEF has verified that 1,496 children have been abducted in Iraq since the beginning 2014 and more than 1.5 million children have been forced to leave their homes, sometimes more than once, because of violence.
“We’re seeing violence as the Iraqi forces and ISIL (Islamic State) have come together, and people are able to flee,” Mr Bates said.
“Some of these people have been caught for a year, maybe two years, without any services, so once they’re given a corridor to escape, they of course take it.”
He said it can be difficult for humanitarian agencies to help everyone escaping violence.
“The unpredictability and fluidity of their movements catches everyone off guard.
“We can try to do contingency planning (but) these things are very unpredictable.”
UNICEF calls for protection of children’s rights
In light of the report, UNICEF is calling for full humanitarian access to children across Iraq, detailing that one third of all Iraqi children need access to humanitarian aid.
The agency is asking the international community for funding to meet immediate needs in Iraq and calling for children’s rights to be protected.
“UNICEF alone has a $100 million deficit for 2016, and this is to put in place the minimum services,” Mr Bates said.
“If we look at the longer term, that means reconstituting the systems; education, health, protection, this is going to cost billions of dollars over the next couple of years.”
“This is a heavy price, but if we don’t come up and bear this cost, then it’s the children who are going to suffer for it. And if we let the children in Iraq suffer, then again we’re going to lose this generation.”
“And what’s going to happen is that the world will pay that price later on, as migration continues because there’s no hope within Iraq, as children are caught up in the spiral of violence and they grow up becoming, again, the people who perpetuate this type of violence.
“So the investment has to be now otherwise the cost later will be much, much too high.”