Children under severe threat in Iraq, says Unicef

‘A Heavy Price for Children’ report finds serious risk of death, violence and abduction

Some 3.6 million children in Iraq are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, Unicef, the UN fund for children, has said in a new report “Children in Iraq are in the firing line and are being repeatedly and relentlessly targeted,” said Peter Hawkins, Unicef’s Iraq representative.

Its report, A Heavy Price for Children, says 10 per cent of children have fled their homes since 2014 when Islamic State swept into Iraq, seizing the Sunni cities of Ramadi, Falluja and Mosul. A third of the country’s children, or 4.7 million, are in need of humanitarian aid as fighting continues around Falluja and Mosul, the report says.

The number of children at risk has increased by 1.3 million over the past 18 months, it adds.

Nearly 1,500 children have been abducted: boys to join fighting units and girls to become sex slaves. They are subjected to torture and abuse, the report says.

Children are at risk from mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance in five warring provinces, it has found. Such devices are planted intentionally along roads used by civilians, in private homes or in areas where children play.

Iraqi security forces have dismantled explosives hidden in dolls in Diyala, east of Baghdad. Children who survive explosions have injuries requiring specialised medical treatment their families cannot afford.

Health services have been “severely disrupted” in all areas of Iraq affected by conflict although nearly all Iraqis received heath care before 1990, the report says. Internally displaced civilians place a huge strain on health care and staff, many of whom are forced to flee fighting. Hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, measles and pneumonia are on the rise.

A quarter of the 1.1 million mothers giving birth this year will do so without medical care, the report says. A fifth of Iraqi children die before they reach five while a quarter are stunted due to malnutrition, poor maternal health and disease. Nearly 75 per cent of households face a “shortage of food”.

Iraqi children suffer a lack of clean drinking water, it also says. Sewage leaking into pipes contaminates water while a million tons of raw sewage is dumped daily into the Tigris River in Baghdad province. The school system “is in a desperate state”, according to the report.

Unicef urged all parties to protect children, grant humanitarian access, and provide education and mental health services. Unicef called for $100 million (€90m) to address the crisis. “A failure to protect and nurture children now will result in social and economic costs down the road that will threaten the future of the country.”

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