Iraq: Girls Face Kidnapp Threat But Get To School
NEW YORK/BAGHDAD – In the last year, hundreds of children have been killed in Iraq and thousands more injured. Continued fighting and landmines pose a daily danger, made worse by lawlessness in parts of the country.
A year after UNICEF’s officer in charge of operations in Baghdad was killed in the attack on the UN Headquarters, UNICEF says it is more determined than ever to continue helping the nation’s children.
Since the current conflict began, hundreds of children have been killed and thousands more injured. Schools are sometimes closed and many parents keep their children at home from fear that they may be hurt or kidnapped.
“Our movement is extremely restricted because of security,” says one teenage girl who arrives at school surrounded by armed guards. “When we walk in the street we are vigilant and apprehensive. We suspect any person who looks in our direction.”
Ensuring that children have access to schooling is one of UNICEF’s priorities. Working with the Iraqi Ministry of Education, UNICEF has helped rehabilitate 220 schools. Teaching materials are being distributed to 18,000 schools and more than 5 million pupils were able to take their final exams last year and this year.
“The Ministry of Education, teachers, families and children themselves have shown great commitment to continue their education and to attend schools despite the very difficult circumstances they are facing,” says Ghassan Khalil, UNICEF’s child protection project officer. “Needless to say, when children attend school this brings a sense of normalcy to their lives.”
UNICEF also helps deliver water to 350,000 people every day. About 200 projects are underway to repair pumping stations, treatment plants and sewage works that will improve the lives of millions of people.
But security remains the biggest concern for everyone living and working in Iraq. UNICEF says there must be greater determination to help the children of Iraq and that everybody has an obligation to keep them safe and create a better future.
The Big Picture
Children make up almost half of Iraq’s population, which is now close to 25 million. Securing the rights of children not only guarantees the well-being of the present generation, but also that of future generations. However, many of their rights are denied, as illustrated by the following facts and figures
Nearly one in four children aged between six and twelve do not attend school– 31.2 per cent of girls and 17.5 per cent of boys.
Girls and women are facing a major learning gap. There has been a sharp decline in adult female literacy and nearly twice as many girls as boys are out of school.
The rate of acute malnutrition among children has dropped from a high of 11 per cent in 1996 to 4 per cent this year. However, close to 1 million children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Infant mortality today (107 deaths per 1,000 live births) is more than double what it was at the end of the 1980s. The under-five mortality rate (131 deaths per 1,000 live births) is two-and-a-half times what it was in 1989.
Preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea and respiratory infections account for 70 per cent of child deaths.
The water supply system was heavily compromized during the 1990s. Restoration work is underway, but children and women are still exposed to water-related health hazards on a daily basis. Safe drinking water is a nation-wide problem and cases of diarrhoea have increased from an average of 3.8 episodes per child/year in 1990 to nearly 15 episodes per by 1996. During the same period, typhoid fever increased from 2,240 to over 27,000 cases.
There is an increase in the number of children at work, as well as in the number of orphans needing state assistance which existing institutions are unable to provide.
There has been a sharp increase in maternal mortality because women are not getting emergency obstetric care for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
It is important to distinguish the different causes for this situation. There are immediate, underlying and basic causes.
Immediate causes directly relate to life, survival and development rights, and include disease and malnutrition, with preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea and respiratory infections accounting for 70 per cent of child mortality.
Underlying causes affect the well-being and development of children. These causes include the lack of resources to rehabilitate service sectors, including health, water and sanitation, and education, as well as Iraq's electricity “deficit.”
Basic causes are systems-related, as well as crises and sanctions-related. This includes the effects of three major wars, civil strife, over a decade of sanctions, inadequate resource distribution, poor institutional capacity and inadequate human resources.
Sanctions-related basic causes have been partially addressed by the lifting of sanctions through Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 can only be addressed in the context of an international political resolution to the present situation. However, national authorities However, reversing the trends towards degradation of the last two decades will be one of the major challenges of the reconstruction effort. This will include restoring the delivery of high quality social services for children, improving the distribution of resources and building the capacity of existing institutions. Unless basic causes leading to the denial of children's rights to life, survival, and education are addressed, the best that can be hoped for from international interventions is to halt further deterioration
Efforts have so far addressed some of the immediate causes and underlying causes, but have not comprehensively addressed basic causes. UNICEF’s interventions range from education, health, nutrition, water and environmental sanitation and child protection, to rights-based advocacy and women’s rights.
UNICEF believes that promoting the rights of children, as well as of women, in Iraq is a top priority. Rights-based advocacy could promote the understanding necessary to:
Secure the resources necessary to rehabilitate key service sectors in a sustained and sustainable manner
Support a shift from humanitarian efforts to comprehensive long-term development planning
Support a review of counterproductive policies, such as supplying breast milk substitutes to families with babies.