Wrapping up a six-day visit to Iraq, the United Nations human rights envoy tasked with protecting the rights of children caught up in armed conflict said that the war-ravaged country's children are silent victims of the continued violence.
“Many of them are no longer go to school, many are recruited for violent activities or detained in custody, they lack access to the most basic services and manifest a wide range of psychological symptoms from the violence in their everyday lives,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
She urged religious, political, military and community leaders to encourage children to stay out of the violence and return to their studies.
Gender-based violence is also reported to be on the rise, which Ms. Coomaraswamy said is “intolerable.”
Only half of primary school children are attending school, down from 80 per cent in 2005, she noted. Only 40 per cent having access to clean drinking water, with the outbreak of cholera possible.
Since 2004, rising numbers of children have been recruited into militias and insurgent groups, some serving as suicide bombers, while some 1,500 are known to be in detention facilities.
Since humanitarian workers' access to children is impeded in many parts of Iraq, children are deprived of their assistance.
The Special Representative called on all parties to give free and independent access to aid workers, and urged the Iraqi Government, the United States Government and other countries to allow agencies, such as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), to be able to reach children in all parts of Iraq without hindrance.
Ms. Coomaraswamy also appealed to the international community to assist neighbouring countries to which Iraqis have fled to ensure that the children are protected and can access basic services, including education and health care.
She called on all sides in the Iraqi conflict to follow international humanitarian standards for the protection of children and to release without delay any children under the age of 18 associated with their forces, and also to adhere to international human rights standards pertaining to juvenile justice provisions.
“Let peace in Iraq begin with the protection of children” said the Special Representative said.