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IRAQ: Conflict jeopardising children’s physical, mental health

BAGHDAD, 15 August 2007 (IRIN) - Muhammad Abdallah, 12, lost his only brother in a shooting incident, and since then his parents are not taking any chances and do not let him out of the house.

“In the past two years I’ve been more or less confined to my room. My parents don’t allow me to go out, most of my friends have gone abroad, and I was forced to leave school for security reasons,” he said.

“My mum told me that maybe some neighbours might force us out of our home and she is very scared, but I’m not. At least I would be out of this house,” he added.

A Sunni from Baghdad’s Yarmouk District, he is just another victim of the violence, displacement, school closures and poor diet that are taking their toll on children’s physical and mental health - something that could affect the country’s future.

“Children have become prisoners of their own families,” Dr Fua’ad Azize, a psychologist in Baghdad, said, but he warned that keeping them locked up inside could seriously affect their development. “Children need to move, read, learn and play but today in Iraq such normal things might lead to death or injury,” he said.

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Abdallah’s mother is sure that keeping her child at home is the best way to save his life but she knows he is not happy: “I will protect my child with all my strength. I know he isn’t happy being kept in all the time but I know it is for his protection,” Um Faisal said.

“I try to do my best to make him feel comfortable at home. I buy him chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream, and even if he gets mental problems, that’s better than a bullet in the head.”

Other impacts of violence

Dr Azize said many children were being raised in a climate of fear and violence. “Some children and youths… are being manipulated and brainwashed into helping militias and insurgents - sometimes with the blessing of their families,” he said.

A senior official in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said the threat of violence was also preventing the organisation of sports or entertainment activities:

“We have very good ideas for entertaining children and sometimes even the money is available but the violence is preventing us from doing anything in practice,” Ahlam Abdul-Rahman, the ministry official, said.

''In the past two years I’ve been more or less confined to my room. My parents don’t allow me to go out, most of my friends have gone abroad, and I was forced to leave school for security reasons.''
Mohammed Abdul-Aziz, a statistician at the Ministry of Education, told IRIN that at least 125 children had been killed and 107 injured since 2005 in attacks on schools. These numbers do not include children killed or injured on their way to or from school.

“A child’s place is at school, but not in Iraq where violence has definitely entered the classroom,” Abdul-Aziz said. “My three children no longer go to school because I want to keep them out of harm’s way. I know that as a government employee I should set an example but when you are a father saving the life of your child is more important than any social duty.”

Abdallah, however, remains hopeful that things will improve:

“My mum told me that my brother is going to tell God that we need peace and he will hear him - I’m sure he will. And when that happens I will be outside again, playing football with my friends, who will come back from abroad.”

as/cb

Theme (s): Children, Conflict, Early Warning, Education, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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