Children with serious illnesses abandoned

Nine-year-old Faleh Muhammad was abandoned by his family in April 2006. He was left to fend for himself in the streets of Baghdad, and later he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

“I miss my mother… in the last days before they left me, she was very sad. One day I woke up in the morning to find my father and mother had disappeared,” Faleh said.

“We were living in an abandoned building near Hay Jamia’a District with three other families. I asked them about my parents and they told me they had left. So I had to work to be able to eat because those families couldn’t feed me,” he said.

Faleh said he started begging in the streets of Baghdad and one day he had a serious headache and fainted. Helped by passers-by, he was taken to Yarmouk hospital and after two days diagnosed with leukaemia.

“I remember my father saying I was useless because I was rotten from the inside and I never understood why, but now I know that the reason for abandoning me was my disease,” Faleh said, adding that his father was poor and could not afford the treatment.

Faleh, who is now receiving treatment, is being looked after by a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) Keeping Children Alive (KCA), which estimates that in Baghdad alone over 700 children have been abandoned by their families since January 2006. However, the KCA lacks the resources to help him to get proper treatment.

“The problem is even more serious among new-born babies and there are many cases of children aged 1-12 abandoned,” said Mayada Marouf, a spokesperson for KCA. “Most of them have a life-threatening disease and their families cannot afford treatment.”

Long-term psychological effects

“All children whose parents have left them are suffering from serious psychological disorders, and the youngest urgently need a family to take care of them,” Marouf said. “Poverty and violence have also forced parents to abandon a son to save the lives of their other children.”

Specialists said the greatest concern is the long-term effect on an entire generation: the trauma of what is happening to those children is enormous.

''All children whose parents have left them are suffering from serious psychological disorders, and the youngest urgently need a family to take care of them.''

“Abandoned children carry long-term psychological effects. There is a strong possibility that they could change their behaviour after feeling ostracised,” Dr Ibrahim Abdel-Rahman, a psychiatrist at the Iraqi Aid Association (IAA), another NGO, said. The KCA has a department that works with vulnerable children. It also has three psychologists - two from Jordan and one from the United Arab Emirates.

“In some cases they keep to themselves and don’t want to speak to professionals or any other person. They feel they are on their own although there are people who want to help them,” Abdel-Rahman said.

Iraqi Red Crescent concerned

The Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) told IRIN the rise in the number of abandoned children was alarming, the result of sectarian violence and drastic socio-economic problems.

An IRC employee, who preferred anonymity, told IRIN many parents leave their children with relatives who already have over 20 children to look after and are later abandoned or forced to work in the streets to supplement the household income. It is not uncommon to see a houses teaming with children.

Over 1.6 million children under the age of 12 have become homeless in Iraq, according to the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. That's almost 70 percent of the estimated 2.5 million Iraqis who are homeless inside the country.

“There are no reliable estimates of how many orphans and abandoned children are in Iraq today but we believe, according to some data collected by local NGOs, that over 8,000 children are in the same or a similar situation to that of Faleh,” Mayada said.

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