The Situation of Children in Iraq
Iraq was once one of the best places in the MENA region to be a child. But since the 1970s the country has lost traction and fallen far behind. If Iraq had progressed at the same rate as many other countries, by 2011 it would have achieved a number of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) including school enrolment, infant mortality and access to safe drinking water. Instead, it will miss most MDG targets when they expire in 2015.
Iraq's fourth Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 4) conducted in 2011 provided a new evidence base on the situation of children in the country. The findings from a multiple-deprivation analysis of the MICS 4 data identified the most underserved Iraqi children, including details of their location and the deprivations they experienced. The most deprived children were found in rural areas, from poor households, and had mothers with low levels of education.
The MICS 4 findings revealed 36% of all children, around 5.7 million, faced three or more deprivations at the same time. Another 30% (five million children) experienced two deprivations simultaneously, while only about a third, roughly 34% (5.5 million children) faced just one or no deprivations.
Results showed wide disparities across geographic areas, with the percentage of highly deprived children (three or more deprivations) varying from as low as 16% in Sulaymaniyah to as high as 55% in Missan. The absolute number of highly deprived children also varied from as low as 65,000 in Dohuk to as high as 860,000 in Baghdad. These findings demonstrate that Iraq’s MDG targets could have been achieved by expanding access to services to the most deprived children, and that targets would be attained faster by focusing on the most deprived children and areas first.
The survey revealed that since the previous MICS in 2006, progress had been made in areas such as birth registration, immunization coverage, increased institutional delivery, gender parity in primary school and reduction of child labour. But the survey noted that increased attention was needed to reduce mortality rates of children under 5, especially newborns, and on chronic under-nutrition. Breastfeeding and reduced delay to the treatment of diarrhea and acute respiratory infections remained key priorities together with children's completion of primary school.
Since MICS 4, larger political developments within the region continue to adversely affect the development and well-being of children, beginning in 2012 with the arrival of almost 250,000 Syrian refugees into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
This was followed by the eruption of conflict within the country in 2014. Both events have thrown children’s lives into chaos and made them more vulnerable to deadly diseases such as polio and cholera.
Millions of Iraqis are now displaced and millions more in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The massive numbers of displaced families have put enormous strain on the communities where they seek safety as they vie for already limited resources and further strain weak social systems. Violations of international humanitarian law are widespread, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Many parties to the conflict are engaged in gross human rights abuses and the number of grave violations against children has doubled over the past 12 months—girls who are captured face gender based violence and boys are recruited to fight or work on the front lines. Attacks on essential public facilities such as hospitals and schools are frequent, and the denial of humanitarian assistance and disruption of basic services such as water and electricity have been employed as a weapon of war.
Even taking into account its troubled history, Iraq now faces a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude, and the most vulnerable of all are children.
Did You Know?
1 in 4 children suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition.
Only 44% of all primary-school aged children complete on time.
4 out of 5 children experience violent forms of discipline.
1 in 5 Iraqis do not have access to the drinking water network.
1 in 3 children in Iraq have been deprived of several of their fundamental rights.