Over a million of the Iraqi citizens displaced by three-year war with the Islamic State group were children, the United Nations said Friday, calling for more significant humanitarian aid and youth protection.
Schools have been destroyed and homes abandoned as the turmoil has stolen years of important educational and mental development from the nation’s youngest generations through persistent bombings and attacks.
“Violence is not only killing and maiming children; it is destroying schools, hospitals, homes, and roads. It is tearing apart the diverse social fabric and the culture of tolerance that hold communities together," said Peter Hawkins, Unicef chief representative to Iraq.
Meanwhile, regional Unicef director, Geert Cappelaere, said: “Iraq today hosts one of Unicef’s largest operations in the world, responding with humanitarian and development assistance to the needs of the most vulnerable girls and boys across the country.”
“More than 4 million children have been impacted by extreme violence in several areas including in Ninewa and al-Anbar. Last year alone, 270 children were killed. Many were robbed of their childhood, forced to fight on the frontlines. Some will bear the physical and psychological scars for life due to exposure to unprecedented brutality. Over 1 million children were forced to leave their homes,” he added.
The international group called for an end to violence in all parts of the country to allow children and families traumatized by the continued onslaught of conflict time to heal and provide a life of safety and dignity, protected from harm.
The United Nations called for the world to “step up immediately.” The continued delivery of humanitarian aid addressing food and water shortages, basic necessities, education, and health - both physical and mental psychological support- is vital to the country’s recuperation.
“The children of Iraq, like all children around the world have the right to learn and aspire to a better tomorrow. The children of today are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, engineers, and scientists. Investing in them now is an investment in Iraq’s future,” Cappelaere said.
According to former army psychiatrist, Dr. Haidr al-Maliki, who now works as a pediatric psychologist, the majority of adolescent victims suffer from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thousands will go untreated, al Maliki said, due to the extreme shortage of pediatric professionals in the nation.
A U.N. report entitled “Nowhere to Go” details the heavy toll the war has taken on child health. One out of five youths show signs of stunted growth, over seven percent of those under the age of five suffer from a particular “wasting” disease which is the chronic weight loss of both fat and muscle tissue.
Those children who were exposed to heavy metals and neurotoxins due to explosives and ammunition have experienced various levels of contamination from uranium and other chemicals, which manifest as congenital disabilities and cancer. Additionally, other side effects of the war include hearing loss, high lead poisoning, and weakened immune systems.
The report went on to say that between Jan. 2014 and May 2017, 1,075 children were killed, 1,130 were maimed or injured, and 231 were recruited into the armed conflict.