One out of every five Iraqi children are at “serious risk” of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, according to a new United Nations report.
In A Heavy Price for Children: Violence destroys childhoods in Iraq, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that some 3.6 million children are in danger – an increase of 1.3 million in 18 months.
The report also states that 4.7 million children in need of humanitarian aid, which amounts to one-third of all Iraqi children, as military operations in Fallujah and around Mosul face deteriorating living conditions.
“Children in Iraq are in the firing line and are being repeatedly and relentlessly targeted,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Iraq Representative.
He appealed to all parties for restraint and to respect and protect children: “We must help give children the support they need to recover from the horrors of war and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”
According to the report, 1,496 children have been abducted in Iraq over the past two and a half years. That translates to 50 children abducted each month, with many forced into fighting or sexually abused.
“The kidnapping of children from their homes, their schools and from the streets is horrifying,” said Mr. Hawkins. “These children are being ripped from their families and are subjected to sickening abuses and exploitation.”
The report also reveals that almost 10 per cent of Iraqi children – more than 1.5 million – have been forced to flee their homes because of violence since the beginning of 2014, often multiple times.
Among the concerns – which also include a lack of adequate health care and poor public service – is a lack of education. The conflict has rendered nearly one in five unusable, preventing almost 3.5 million school-age children from learning, UNICEF said.
Among the steps that need to be taken immediately include ending the killing, maiming, abduction, torture, detention, sexual violence and recruitment of children, and providing unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access to all children in the country, according to the report.
Additional steps include expanding and improving education for out-of-school children through catch-up classes; providing psychological and recreation programmes to help children heal and to reconnect with their childhoods; and increasing funding for life-saving support for children, UNICEF said.