Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Don't Forget About the Children

Yesterday in The Washington Post, a story on the psychological impact on children in the war offered some startling evidence. With over two million child refugees, the intensity of their experiences and trauma is far-reaching.

It's all too easy to forget about the children in this war when talking about stress disorders, internally and externally displaced persons, and other devastating consequences lost in this consistent sea of violence. It's all too easy to to forget that, while incredibly harrowing for the average citizen in Iraq, it's ten times worse for a child. Lacking in many of the psychological coping mechanisms possessed by their elders, and gained only through years and life experience, many children simply do not know how to react to the violent images they see day in and day out.

"In a World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad last year, 47 percent said they had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years." Abdul Muhsin, a psychiatrist in Baghdad, is concerned that over this time, the number of cases of psychological problems exhibited in children has, and will continue to increase exponentially. He is taken aback, rightly so, when he sees children playing with toy guns and emulating rocket propelled grenade attacks on cars passing by - he is worried that this generation will be more violent than that of Saddam Hussein's.

Given the increased consistency of violence in Iraq, it seems as though children are both consumed by fear, and are finding solace from that fear in replicating the life they see on the streets - markedly disastrous alternative outlets for their psychological ailments. Due to the "stigma attached to such ailments," children are simply not being treated - "As many as 80 percent." Meanwhile, for the lucky children who still have their parents to look after them, their mother and father simply call in for advice, hardly the most effective method of treatment.

Many childhoods will be summed up with gunfire, fear, and damaging psychological trauma. This is a situation that needs to be addressed immediately. Children are extremely vulnerable in this conflict and these events are being ingrained in their memory as we speak. To have hope in the situation is to have hope in the future generations that rebuilding the country will fall on. Right now those future generations are being done incalculable damage. For the future of Iraq, and for the well being of countless children, we need a solution now.

UNICEF is calling for 20 million in aid to help accomplish their goals in Iraq. Only 11 percent has been received to date. This is unacceptable; the U.S. should be taking a much greater role in helping to alleviate one of the worst refugee crises in history.

YOU can still take action on behalf of Iraq's refugees. We continue to hand-deliver your letters to Members of Congress, and are keeping our action center open until the U.S. government passes serious, comprehensive legislation to assist not only children, but all those displaced by violence in Iraq.

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