Monday, January 29, 2007

The Armed Robbery of Iraqi Childhoods

Five dead in mortar attack on Baghdad girls school. More here.
My parents told me stories of how they had to walk miles through rain and snow to get to school when they were children. What will today's generation of young Iraqi's tell their children about their own treks during the war?
That they had to walk past corpses and hulks of blown-up buses?

Down streets running with blood?

Between cordons of U.S. troops and sectarian militias?

That they had to stay home because it was too dangerous to venture outside?

That their school had to close because there were too few students and teachers?

That they eventually put away their school books and toys and joined the insurgency?
Millions of Iraqi children are being robbed of their childhoods. You might called it armed robbery.

The Iraqi Ministry of Education estimates that only 30 percent of the 3.5 million Iraqi elementary-age children are attending school now, down from 75 percent last year.

Jonathan Powers, manager of the War Kids Relief Program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, addresses this crises in an article, "Iraq's Youth in a Time of War," in an issue of the John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies Review Journal.

Powers argues that the U.S. and international community should increase their support for efforts to engage Iraqi youth in their country’s state-building efforts, which he believes is crucial for increasing the stability of the country and region.

He concludes that:
"Iraqi youth face a difficult challenge in the months and years to come, as they strive to overcome childhoods plagued by violence. Along the way, they will face numerous decisions about where to place their allegiance as their country struggles to rebuild itself after decades of tyranny and now occupation. Extremists have a head start in enabling these youths to be part of the current struggle, but it is not too late to change this pattern. The future of Iraq, and of the region, depends to a large degree on the opportunities that young men and women will have to shape their countries' development."
Newsweek recently wrote about this lost generation, while UNICEF provides a by-the-numbers portrait of Iraqi children here.

For a blast from the past, check out the now inactive website of Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq. Remember those U.N. sanctions, which did more to harm ordinary Iraqis that Saddam's regime?

The website cited a U.N. document prepared during the run-up to the 2003 invasion that predicted:
" . . . 30 percent of children under 5 in Iraq, or 1.26 million, 'would be at risk of death from malnutrition' in the event of war."
Has this come to pass? Damned if I know.

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Meanwhile, Operation Iraqi Children raises funds to send school supply kits to Iraq. Click here for more info. (Please note that this is not an endorsement of this group.)

Portions of this post originally appeared in October 2006
Photograph by The Associated Press

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