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UNICEF wary of post-war child trafficking in Iraq

Alarm Raised by Reports of Growing Numbers Street Children

NEW YORK, 13 June 2003 - Noting a flurry of news reports indicating an increase in the number of children on the streets in Baghdad, UNICEF says the situation is ripe for exploitation of children.

In the chaos of the post-war environment, in Iraq normal community networks that protect children are not fully functioning. That can leave children exposed to exploitation. Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked each year around the world for brutal child labour and sexual abuse.

UNICEF warns that while street children are a concern in Iraq, there is no overnight solution. The issue of street children is a very recent phenomenon in Iraq. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, the problem simply did not exist, and it will take time to reverse this trend.

While well-meaning people around the world might think that international adoption is a legitimate way to help some of these children quickly, UNICEF is concerned that too often unscrupulous child traffickers will try exploiting the chaos and trying to pass themselves off as legitimate agents of good.

This is why UNICEF strongly supports getting all Iraqi children back in school as a way of protecting them from exploitation and injury.

Reliable figures on the number of children who lost parents during the conflict are not yet available. An assessment by UNICEF and other agencies is currently underway.

In UNICEF’s long standing tradition of working in countries in crisis, the organization has sought to involve extended families and friends within the community as a first line of protection for children who have lost both their parents. In fact, adoption within the extended family or community is recognized as the first and best option for these children. International adoption should only be considered when all local options have been exhausted

UNICEF attempts to trace families for two years before determining that a child is orphaned. The Red Cross and Save the Children Alliance operate on the same principle.

For further information, please contact:

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, 212) 326 7269 e-mail: jsedky@unicef.org




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