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Iraq’s rising numbers of orphaned children

Wednesday 19 April 2006

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Iraq’s rising numbers of orphaned children

Report, IRIN

18 April 2006

BAGHDAD - Orphans in Iraq, who often lack protection, food supplies and medical assistance, require urgent assistance, according to officials at the Orphans Houses Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

"Orphaned children have become a very serious issue," said department director Abeer Mahdi al-Chalabi. "We have 23 orphanages with limited capacity, capable of housing only about 1,600 orphans."

Although there are seven orphanages in the capital, Baghdad, and another 16 in other provinces, "they aren’t enough to provide assistance to all the orphans in the country", said al-Chalabi. She went on to point out that the increase in the number of orphans countrywide was an inevitable result of the bombings, assassinations and sectarian violence currently plaguing the country.

According to a 2005 report issued by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), there were some 5,000 orphans in the capital alone, many of whom have been ostracised by society and have little hope of finding education or shelter.

"My two brothers and I work with our uncle in the streets of Baghdad as peddlers," said Ahmed Chaloob, 10, whose parents were killed in a bomb attack two months ago. "I know nothing about orphanages, and I don’t think my uncle would let us go because he needs us to work," added Chaloob, who currently lives in a small room with eight other relatives.

Orphans often live in the streets as beggars or drug addicts. Some are believed to have been used by terrorists to carry out attacks; others have reportedly been forced by criminal gangs to work as thieves, according to ministry officials.

Given the prevailing atmosphere of violence and confusion, there are no reliable statistics for the number of orphans in the country. "We don’t have accurate numbers," said al-Chalabi. "Officially, there are 642 orphans registered in our orphanages," he added, estimating this number to represent a mere 10 percent of the total number nationwide.

"I’ve been here since 1996 with my brother, and I have two sisters living in [another] orphanage," said Mustafa Hameed, a 15 year-old orphan at Baghdad’s al-Wazeriyah orphanage. "After our mother died in a car accident and our father remarried, we were taken here where we found care and love."

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs provides some US $2,000 per month to each of the country’s orphanages, and ministry officials hope to eventually increase this amount to cover the requirements of additional orphans in the future.

"Orphans are provided with food, social services, health care, psychological care, education and other activities, such as computer training and painting," said Abtesaam Rasheed, manager of the al-Wazeriyah orphanage. "But much more is required - we need support from the government and international NGOs to expand capacity and provide training for our social workers."

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