Iraq must spend more on basic services, particularly for children, says UN envoy

30 April 2008

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict has called on the Iraqi Government to spend more on basic services, noting that a large portion of the strife-torn nation’s children are going to school or receiving proper care.

“The government of Iraq must use a large portion of its budget – that is the surplus – to deal with the provision of basic services to its population,” Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters in New York today, after a six-day visit to Iraq.

She said the “situation is quite intolerable for children, especially in central and south Iraq.”

The Iraqi Government is dealing with large-scale reconstruction, but “there is just no attention to these basic services, and if there is, it is on a sectarian emphasis,” she added.

Citing figures from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she said that only half of Iraq’s children are currently going to school, and that “the issue of psychosocial services remains extremely problematic with surveys in Basra and other places showing 80 per cent with psychological symptoms.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy called for “diplomatic and political initiatives to secure humanitarian access for the major humanitarian actors. Supplying them with US military security is just not enough. There is a need to actually do the work, to try and get humanitarian access.”

Saying that over 1,500 children are being held in detention by the Multinational Forces in Iraq (MNF) and by the Iraqi Government, she commented that both must “respect international norms and standards with regard to children in detention.”

Although the MNF had made progress since the end of last year on family visits, education and recreation for the children in its custody, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that children “should not be held in military detention,” without access to outside legal counsel. Of the more than 1,000 children in Iraqi detention, she said that “there is no education, no recreation – nothing being given to these children.”

Citing anecdotal and eyewitness evidence, the UN envoy also said that “since the Samara bombing of 2006 a large number of children were being recruited by the militias and the insurgent groups, that in some cases payment is given as inducement and that there was a general belief among the various groups that children should be mobilized to protect the particular group – a total mobilization of the community.”

She called on religious and community leaders to make sure that children “are not included in the conflict, to make the appeals and to raise awareness about this issue – so that they can be sent back to school.”


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