Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Childhood as a War Casualty

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recently featured some highly disturbing stories detailing the impact of the war on Iraqi children. The photo on the left is from one of these articles, which discusses Doctors Without Borders operations in Jordan through the story of Shams, an infant who at six month of age was blinded by a car bomb blast near her family's home in Baghdad. Her mother died in the explosion.

ast forward a year, and Shams and her father are now in a Jordanian hospital awaiting treatment from a plastic surgeon from Doctors Without Borders. While the surgery aims to lessen Shams' physical disfigurement caused by the car bomb, there is no possibility of restoring her vision. Her optic nerves have been destroyed to the point where she can no longer even perceive lightness or darkness.

This article, from last November, describes conditions in Iraq--lack of sanitation, good quality food, medicines, doctors, clean water, and not to mention the violence--that have put the country's children in a very precarious state. Unfortunately, since November, things have not improved and increasing levels of violence and dwindling funding are forcing the few remaining NGOs that administer aid to Iraqi children to leave the country. Under extreme physical, psychological and developmental stress, Iraqi children turn to drug use and prostitution, according to another article on the UN site:
"Sami Rubaie, 12, lives on the streets of Baghdad. He said he ran away from home because he could not stand the beatings he got from his father for not bringing home enough money from begging all day. He soon turned to glue sniffing. To support his habit, he recently joined a gang and now men have sex with him in exchange for glue and money.

“'I cry every time a man has sex with me and they usually hit me because I am crying. After I do it, my boss gives me a good quantity of glue and around US $3 dollars for food. I know what I’m doing is wrong but it’s better than living with daily beatings from my father for not bringing him enough money,' Sami said."
The Guardian has an article in which some experts speculate on the long-term psychological impact that the violence will have on Iraq's children:
"Lynne Jones, a child psychiatrist with the International Medical Corps who studied children under war in Bosnia, said: 'Children are often incredibly resilient. In a number of studies, trauma in children in war zones has tailed off quite rapidly once the violence dies down.' Their continued wellbeing depends on the kind of environment in which they live after that, and the values of their families or parents, she said.

... Dr Hassan told the Guardian of his fears for Iraq's current young generation. 'Do not make the mistake of blaming the occupation and the recent war for all of this,' he said. "For more than three decades, young Iraqis have been forced to learn how to kill. We must now learn instead about dialogue and compromise. Otherwise, we will continue to produce psychopathic personalities for whom violence is simply a means of negotiating daily life.'"
Such reports starkly emphasize the need to increase humanitarian aid in Iraq. In doing so, we can start to alleviate the suffering of child victims by increasing the resources and services available to them. With an increase in funding for organizations like the UNHCR and the IOM, US legislators will not end all the horrors in Iraq, but they can do something to help the most innocent victims of this war.

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