Mental health specialists say there has been an increase in domestic violence against children largely a result of the violence that has gripped Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. They say the violence has affected people’s behaviour.
“We have observed that there has been an increase in the number of cases of aggression against children in Iraq and the main perpetrators of this aggression are the children’s own parents. Their aggressive behaviour is seriously affecting the daily life of thousands of innocent children,” said Ala’a al-Sahaddi, vice-president of the Iraq Psychologists Association (IPA).
“Parental punishments are becoming harsher. We investigated cases in which children were left with water but no food for over two days, or who were beaten with belts or sticks that left them with broken bones,” al-Sahaddi added.
According to al-Sahaddi, most Iraqis nowadays behave aggressively towards each other, and exhibit disturbed behaviour. He said the few psychologists left in Iraq do not know how to treat these problems.
“Most of the children I see have disturbed behaviour or post-traumatic stress disorder. They suffer from domestic violence and are being treated with simple medication, as it is very hard to find more potent drugs in Iraq,” said Ibrahim Abdullah, a psychiatrist and member of the National League for the Study of Health Disorders (NLSHD).
“Most of the [affected] families come here for help and sometimes we can do nothing for them. Some parents are aware of their disturbed behaviour in dealing with their children but claim they don’t have control, and only realise what they have done when they see their children are hurt and require urgent medical assistance,” Abdullah added.
|More on children in Iraq|
Abdullah said that with the ongoing violence it would be very difficult to change such behaviour.
During former President Saddam Hussein’s regime, there were about 90 psychiatrists in Iraq and some 45 psychologists but today there are fewer than 40 of both in total, according to the IPA, most of them having fled to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Syria.
A privately funded study - entitled 'The effects of war on psychological distress' - by the IPA with the support of the NLSHD in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and Babil provinces, showed that of the 2,500 families interviewed, 87 percent had observed a family member with psychological distress.
Some 91 percent of the children interviewed said they faced more aggression at home than before the US-led invasion in 2003; nearly 38 percent had serious haematomas [localised swellings filled with blood] after beatings.
Fathers mainly to blame
Al-Sahaddi said two local non-governmental-organizations (NGOs), which prefer anonymity for security reasons, are helping child victims of domestic violence. The culprits, he said, are usually fathers, rather than mothers who themselves seek protection from local aid organisations.
|We are trying to help some of these children but the problem is huge as the psychological effects are enormous and are multiplying faster than we can manage.|
“We are trying to help some of these children but the problem is huge as the psychological effects are enormous and are multiplying faster than we can manage. We desperately need support for projects which can help change this state of affairs in Iraq; we need national programmes which guarantee the safety of these children,” al-Sahaddi said.
“There is no law in Iraq that criminalises parental aggression. Three months ago we had a case of a father who killed his son after beating him and causing haematomas, broken bones and asphyxia. The man was not charged and is free. He is seen as an innocent person just trying to keep order in his home. This is ridiculous,” he said.