Thursday, July 09, 2009

WWB: the silence of children

WHAT WAR BRINGS: the silence of children

Below is a re-post from March 25, 2007. It is all still true, as far as I know. This silencing of children is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, due to US occupation or bombing.

Here is an older post on the drone bombings of civilians in Pakistan. Of course, the number of dead has increased since then. Some of the dead were surely children.

And just today in Afghanistan, this sad event happened:

A truck filled with explosives that police believe may have been
destined for Kabul blew up on a highway Thursday, killing 25 people — more than half of them children walking to school.

(and) …..Three children were missing.

++++++++++++++++++++++++ Here is a repeat of my prior post:

In this post, I am at least going to acknowledge that the voices and songs of the Iraqi children are disappearing in the tsunami of violence that our invasion and occupation has unleashed upon them – the truly innocent among us.

This is a link to a short video of some of the appalling conditions some children in Baghdad are facing now. It starts by showing a young boy with beautiful hazel eyes singing a song that has this line in it: "I slipped from your hands as I said farewell". He explains that he was walking with his parents when he saw them explode. He is one of many children in this orphanage, and all of them know about death and loss, probably better than most readers of this post.

Some of them have also suffered horrible wounds from violent attacks. There is only one man running the orphanage now – the other man running the orphanage was killed by a death squad. Also, the orphanage is running out of funds and may soon close.

Another scene in this video is a young mother bringing her son to the doctor. She claims the boy has not acted normally since the car bomb. Both she and the doctor seem to think it is due to PTSD, although the child has obvious scars on his head. The video then discusses the threat of kidnapping that the children face. The final scene is a young girl crying as she listens to a singer sing of a better tomorrow. She is an orphan too.

The problems start before the child arrives in the world. This article tells of the problems of getting the expectant mother to the hospital under conditions of occupation, and it is called "Birth Amid the Bloodshed". Driving at night is not allowed under curfew, and driving anyway could get you killed. And it is possible to get killed by several different actors in Iraq – criminals, militias, Iraqi army, Iraqi police or US military. No matter which group you might encounter after curfew, you could easily end up dead before you are even born. It sounds like the parents are most afraid of US troops. And the expectant parents cannot just drive to the closest hospital – it may be run by another sect. And that can get you killed also.

Ammar's fears were the same as Ahmad's: that his wife would go nto labour during the curfew and be trapped at home or that they would be forced to risk driving through the dark streets dodging jumpy US patrols. "My real dread was that my wife, Alaa, would go into labour at night. Her family comes from Mosul so we decided it was better to go there to have the baby."

What does being a child under occupation look like? This is one view. This is an accurate photo of what occupation is like. It is living behind barbed wire, at the will of the occupying army or military - or, in this case, oftentimes the US –mercenaries- security contracters like Blackwater.

The children often see foreign troops from the front of their home, carrying guns that are almost as big as the children are.

Here’s another child with the US military.

All children aged four (now make that six – for 2009) and under were born under occupation. Having foreign troops in their country, with the attendant violence and chaos, is all they know. There were also several pictures of young boys and teenage boys in the news lately, who are talking to and interacting with, US troops. They are fascinated by the guns I believe.

These children often live under horrible conditions. This is an example of what often happens to internally displaced refugees, who have fled from the overwhelming violence:

Photo: Iraqi kids play at ruins of a former Iraqi Army air defense headquarters, where they live in their makeshift homes, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 18, 2007, ahead of Tuesday's fourth anniversary of the U.S. led invasion on Iraq. This army complex was destroyed in the initial bombing campaign in 2003. (AP Photo/Samir Mizban)

And when they say that hundreds were sickened by chlorine bombs, you can be sure that some of the victims are tiny indeed, as this photo shows.

Sometimes a child will get to see the only home they ever knew destroyed right of their eyes:

A boy watches Iraqi Army soldiers tear down his family's shop with a bulldozer on Feb. 15, in the mixed ethnic neighborhood of Gazaliyah in Baghdad. When asked if he was Sunni or Shiite the boy responded only with, "I am a Muslim." (Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

And the children get to experience house searches, often times in the middle of the night. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to them to have foreign troops who don’t speak your language, in your bedroom.

And these children get badly, badly hurt.

And, just like adults, they die when they get too close to US troops while riding in a car. Of course, the children have no say in this matter at all. Earlier this month, two girls were killed with their father, and their brother was wounded, by US troops in Baghdad. The US military claims that the driver ignored or missed signals for him to stop. The instant death penalty often ensues when an Iraqi driver makes that mistake..... or just fails to see the US troops in time. A statement from the surviving spouse from this incident:

"They just opened fire randomly on us," said Akhlas Abduljabbar, a Sunni housewife from Zafaraniyah, south of Baghdad, whose family was travelling through the war-torn city. "They killed my husband and two daughters and my three-year-old boy was wounded in the head. The Americans' translator told me 'Flee, don't stay, they're going to kill you'," she added.

Another article discusses the ongoing crisis with hunger and malnutrition in Iraqi children.

Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Iraq say that malnutrition rates have risen in Iraq from 19 percent before the US-led invasion to a national average of 28 percent four years later. Caritas says that rising hunger has been caused by high levels of insecurity, collapsed healthcare and other infrastructure, increased polarisation between different sects and tribes, and rising poverty. Over 11 percent of newborn babies are born underweight in Iraq today, compared with a figure of 4 percent in 2003. Before March 2003, Iraq already had significant infant mortality due to malnutrition because of the international sanctions regime. Caritas Iraq has been running a series of Well Baby Clinics throughout the country. Currently it provides supplementary food for 8000 children up to 8 years and new mothers. The Caritas clinics help the most vulnerable, and the health crisis they face is much worse than the national average.

How many children are we talking about? This article claims that there are 4.8 million children under age five in Iraq. There are an estimated 13.8 million children total in Iraq. This article claims that one in five children (under age five) are chronically malnourished, and one in ten are underweight.

And, all of this is impacting on their education also. A lot.

According to a report released last year by NGO Save the Children, 818,000 primary school-aged children, representing 22 percent of Iraq's student population, were not attending school. A joint study by the Iraqi Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found that of those who do not attend school, 74 percent are female. Aid agencies estimate that thousands of Iraqi parents do not send their daughters to school for cultural reasons and because of the general insecurity in the country. Mohammed Abdul-Aziz, a statistician at the Ministry of Education, told IRIN last week that at least 110 children had been killed and 95 injured since 2005 in attacks on schools. These numbers do not include children killed or injured on their way to or from school.

And all this violence is giving them nightmares:

Iraqi children are haunted by dreams of bad guys wielding knives or kidnapping relatives. For some, like 13-year-old Zaman, the nightmares become reality. She was abducted, beaten and threatened with rape. "Zaman suffers from shaking, nervousness, a stutter and sleep disorder," said Haider Abdul-Muhsin, a psychiatrist at Baghdad’s Ibn Rushd hospital who treats children suffering the consequences of war, four years after the U.S. invasion.

And read this and weep. And imagine trying to calm your own child in a situation like this one.

"My kids are always afraid," said Nora’s mother, who has four children, aged between four and 11. "Even when a door slams they start trembling and shouting 'A bomb, a bomb.' My children used to play outside when things were better two years ago but now they’re stuck to the TV, if we’re lucky enough to have electricity," she said. As she spoke, a pair of U.S. helicopters flew low overhead, the thud of the rotors shaking the house in what has become so common that most Baghdad residents barely flinch. Her 4-year-old son Murtadha burst into tears and put his hands up to his ears to block out the noise. "Mama, afraid, afraid," he managed to say, his voice faltering with tears.

And what will become of these children? One thing for certain, they will likely not get any mental health care, and perhaps no medical care either. Here is one Iraqi child’s statement on the murder of his loved ones by militas:

"They killed my father and uncle in front of my eyes," he says. He then breaks down sobbing. He can no longer speak. The anguish is unbearable. Such stories are not uncommon in Iraq four years after the U.S.-led invasion. Health officials say the daily hardships -- bomb blasts, gunfire, killings of family members and sectarian violence -- are taking an increasing toll on Iraq's children. Hundreds of thousands of children no longer attend school. Others have been forced from their homes to camps, while others have fled the nation with family.


It is nearly impossible to quantify exactly how much the war and violence has impacted these children or just how many are affected. The humanitarian organization Save the Children, in a report last year about children in conflict zones, estimated that 818,000 Iraqi children, ranging in age from 6 to 11, were not in school. That's roughly one in every five children in that age group.

And what do the parents of these children want? Exactly what US parents want for their children:

If I could take Hussein and my other child abroad, away from the violence, I would not hesitate. But only those with money can afford to leave. All I want for my son is a stable life when he grows up. For now, life is tasting really bitter."

"Save the Children UK" used to be located in Iraq, but they felt they had to flee for their own safety.

"Save the Children UK" closed its offices in Erbil, northern Iraq. The charity said in a statement the ongoing insurgency had made its work increasingly difficult and the decision to leave was taken "with great regret." It will continue to support Iraqi groups that help the country's children, eight percent of whom are believed to suffer from acute malnutrition. Save the Children said "The decision is linked to the deteriorating security situation in significant areas of the country including the capital Baghdad, which makes it increasingly difficult for our work to make a significant impact on the lives of children." "Save the Children UK made the decision to withdraw from Iraq after much deliberation and with great regret."

How to Help

It is really sad that "Save the Children" is gone from Iraq. (I am not certain this is still true in 2009 – dancewater.) I can find no example of any group trying to help Iraqi children except this one.

Very few organizations are working on getting aid to Iraqi refugees, and of those that are, many are too small or too beleaguered to accept individual donations; the Iraqi Red Crescent, for example, has suffered bombings and mass kidnappings, yet its volunteers continue to deliver aid to displaced families inside Iraq. One of the larger relief organizations working with the refugees is the Catholic group Caritas, whose caseworkers I shadowed while in Amman. Bucking the image of the Land Rover-driving aid worker, they made their rounds in an aging gray Honda, its roof eaten through by rust. They visited Iraqi doctors, engineers, and executives desperate for food, heat, or blankets to fend off the desert winter; one family told the crew they had just sold their stove to buy food. Caritas helps a few thousand families a year, but "the demand far outstrips the money available to us," says Magy Mahrous, who oversees the project. You can make a contribution at: International Catholic Migration Commission, Citibank USA, 153 East 53rd Street, 16th floor, New York, NY 10043. To ensure that the money reaches the Iraqi program, write "Iraq-icmc" on your check.

I cannot vouch for the above aid organization, but they look legitimate. I wanted to include it in this post, in case you want to do something to help the Iraqi children.

This a song was written by Labi Siffre, in response to oppression to those who are gay or lesbian. I think some of the words fit what is happening to Iraqi children, or maybe they just fit my wishes for Iraqi children – that somewhere inside them will be a will and strength to survive this vicious assault on their childhood. The "walls of Jericho" can be compared to the walls around the green zone.

"The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho
Your lies will come tumbling.

Deny my place in time
You squander wealth that's mine [yet]
My light will shine so brightly
It will blind you..........
Cos there's...... Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho' you're doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh.........something inside so strong"

"whole lot of signing never gonna be heard, disappearing every day without so much as a word" - Patty Griffin, sung by the Dixie Chicks in "Top of the World".

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: the silence of children.

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