Conflict has defined life for an entire generation of Iraqi children
GENEVA, June 2008 - Conflict has undermined the potential of an entire generation of Iraqi children, UNICEF said today. The organisation urged new momentum to reach vulnerable children inside the country with assistance.
“A child turning 18 in Iraq this year looks back on nearly two decades of sanctions, conflict and insecurity”, said Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “To preserve the young generation growing up today, we need to shield children from violence, enhance humanitarian access and provide more resources targeted to children’s specific needs.”
Cumulative impact of conflict
Children’s social services, eroded by lack of investment during the 1990s, have been further weakened by prolonged insecurity and the exodus of Iraqi professionals. Only 40 per cent of Iraq’s children have access to a regularly working water source. Immunisation rates are now under 50 per cent in some of Iraq’s districts, spurring a measles outbreak this year.
The opportunity cost for children in Iraq can be seen when compared to progress made elsewhere in the region. For example, under-five mortality rates (46/1000 live births) are two to three times higher than in Syria (14/1000) and Jordan (25/1000).
The toll on education is a particular concern. As the school year ends this week in Iraq, graduation exams have been postponed for thousands of high school students. Other children, including many in Sadr City, sat end of year exams despite finishing only a portion of the required curriculum due to disruptions in school schedules. School enrolment rates, assessed in 2005 at 83 per cent by the Iraqi Ministry of Education, may have fallen below 60 per cent in 2007, according to preliminary data received from Iraq’s governorates. A new survey for the 2007/8 school year is being finalised with UNICEF support.
Violence, isolation and lack of opportunity have also put children at greater risk of exploitation and abuse, including the use of children by armed groups. More children are also being detained on suspicion of connection with such groups. UNICEF is calling for reinforced adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols by international, state and non-state actors in Iraq, as well as increased humanitarian space as a priority for children.
A new momentum for action
Operating conditions in Iraq remain a challenge, with access remaining a key concern for humanitarian organisations and communities. However, there is evidence of growing capacity to deliver effective assistance in-country.
“We see a new momentum to meet needs on the ground through stronger partnerships,” Kaag said. “Results so far this year indicate we can deliver even under very difficult conditions.”
UNICEF is scaling up its presence and partnerships in Iraq, to reach the many vulnerable children currently hidden from view. An expanded emergency response mechanism, IMPACT: Iraq, will roll out nationwide in July with the support of four international non-governmental organisations.
Through this initiative, humanitarian teams across Iraq’s governorates will deliver a package of healthcare, safe water, sanitation, emergency education and protection to up to 360,000 children and their families. Regular assessments and evaluations will strengthen understanding of where humanitarian action is most needed in Iraq, and how it is making a measurable difference.
Kaag urged increased support for Iraq’s 2008 Consolidated Emergency Appeal (CAP), which is less than 50 per cent funded at the mid-year point. She also welcomed the generous international response to UNICEF’s contribution to the CAP, including from the UK, US, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and UNICEF’s National Committees. Longer-term investment in children’s services is still urgently needed to create synergy between Iraq’s humanitarian and development strategies.
“We have an opportunity to prioritize the lives of children inside Iraq and invest in their future,” she said. “They need and deserve our assistance alongside our support for their peers in neighboring countries.”
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