With hundreds of Iraqi youngsters killed over the past year and thousands more injured by continued fighting and landmines that pose a daily danger, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for resolute action to keep the country’s youth safe and create a better future for them.
“The children of Iraq have suffered enough. They have gone through three wars, 12 years of sanctions and live in extraordinarily difficult circumstances - often living in fear of violence," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a message on the eve of the anniversary of the deadly terrorist attack against UN headquarters in Baghdad.
UNICEF staff member Christopher Klein-Beekman was among the 22 people killed on 19 August, 2003. Paying tribute to his commitment, Ms. Bellamy pledged that the agency would continue carrying out its humanitarian mission. "Chris' energy, drive and commitment to Iraqi children will never be forgotten. Events since this tragedy have only reinforced our sense of determination to meet the needs of Iraq's children - now more than ever," she said.
Almost half of Iraq's population is under 18. Even before last year’s war, many children were highly vulnerable to disease, malnutrition and exploitation and the country had one of the world's worst child mortality rates, with one in eight children dying before their fifth birthday.
Insecurity is exacerbating the already difficult situation. Schools are sometimes closed and many parents keep their children at home out of fear that they will be hurt or kidnapped on their way to school. Yet despite these fears, many children still make the journey to school, with parents or other family members escorting them to try to ensure their safety.
But violence in Iraq is a daily reality throughout the country. In April, more than 100 children were reported killed in Fallujah and Basra as a result of fighting, some on their way to school. Children are often killed or maimed by landmines and unexploded ordnance as they are "attracted" by the sometimes colourful and curious designs of these weapons.
Despite the security constraints, UNICEF national staff are working tirelessly to help meet the needs of Iraq's children. Working with Iraqi authorities, the agency has immunized thousands of children, provided education kits for primary schools, repaired water and sewage plants, delivered tankered water to Iraqi communities, provided essential supplies to community-based recreational centres for children and distributed mine-risk education leaflets to residents of Fallujah to warn them of the dangers posed by unexploded ordnance.