Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WWB: severe trauma to children

WHAT WAR BRINGS: severe trauma to children

In any war or occupation where there is a refugee crisis, children are deeply affected. They, like their parents, often flee their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, they lose their childhood friends, schools, familiar routines. They often face poverty. They often end up homeless.

And being in a war zones is also deeply traumatic for children. They see and hear things that will forever scar their minds, and they have little resources to deal with the impact of all the horror on their lives.

And the US authorities, lawmakers, military and general public take little note of what is happening to the children in the occupied countries of Iraq and Afghanistan (or the children in the areas of Pakistan subject to drone bombings). They, therefore, do very little to help them out.

A US journalist did a report on a survey done by the Iraqi Ministry of Health in 2007. These Baghdad children had been exposed to fighting in the streets, passing dead bodies on the way to school, seeing relatives and friends killed or severely injured, and other actions of war and occupation. They didn’t just see them once in a while – they saw these things a lot, for years on end.

Trauma severe for Iraqi children

About 70% of primary school students in a Baghdad neighborhood suffer symptoms of trauma-related stress such as bed-wetting or stuttering, according to a survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. The survey of about 2,500 youngsters is the most comprehensive look at how the war is affecting Iraqi children, said Iraq's national mental health adviser and author of the study, Mohammed Al-Aboudi.

…… The study was conducted last October in the Sha'ab district of northern Baghdad. The low- to middle-income neighborhood is inhabited by a mix of Shiites and Sunni Arabs. Al-Aboudi said he believes the sample was broadly representative of conditions throughout the capital.

The next story tells of the games the Iraqi children play, imaginary games where they re-enact the horror they see around them daily.

Children of war: the generation traumatised by violence in Iraq

The car stopped at the makeshift checkpoint that cut across the muddy backstreet in western Baghdad. A sentry appeared. "Are you Sunni or Shia?" he barked, waving his Kalashnikov at the driver. "Are you with Zarqawi or the Mahdi army?"

"The Mahdi army," the driver said. "Wrong answer," shouted the sentry, almost gleefully. "Get him!" The high metal gate of a nearby house was flung open and four gun-toting males rushed out. They dragged the driver from his vehicle and held a knife to his neck. Quickly and efficiently, the blade was run from ear to ear. "Now you're dead," said a triumphant voice, and their captive crumpled to the ground.

Then a moment of stillness before the sound of a woman's voice. "Come inside boys! Your dinner is ready!" The gunmen groaned; the hapless driver picked himself up and trundled his yellow plastic car into the front yard; the toy guns and knives were tossed by the back door. Their murderous game of make-believe would have to resume in the morning.

The article goes on to describe the behavior symptoms these children of war show – bullying, bed wetting, nightmares, stuttering, withdrawal, muteness, panic attacks, and violence. The mental and emotional scars are extensive, and often invisible. And, in Iraq, they mainly go untreated. From that same article:

In a rare study published last week, the Association of Iraqi Psychologists (API) said the violence had affected millions of children, raising serious concerns for future generations. It urged the international community to help establish child psychology units and mental health programmes. "Children in Iraq are seriously suffering psychologically with all the insecurity, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions," the API's Marwan Abdullah told IRIN, the UN-funded news agency. "In some cases, they're found to be suffering extreme stress," he said.

Of course, they don’t always play games of war. Sometimes they are recruited into being militants. I wrote a post on that earlier, but the following report from 2006 talks about the psychological trauma the child militants are facing.

Insurgents using children to fight US-led forces

The Iraq Aid Association (IAA) in Baghdad, which works with children suffering psychological trauma as a result of violence, said most child insurgents harbour reasons for revenge.

…. According to the NGO, at least 15 children have been used by insurgents and five are in therapy with the NGO for psychological problems. IAA added that there were many more cases of children participating in the insurgency, especially in the western Anbar province. Ten-year-old Mustafa Ibrahim is one such child. He said he has hated US troops since his parents were killed by them in May 2004 as they fled a battle in Fallujah city. “I do not have anyone for me in this world and I want to meet my family in heaven by revenging their death because God will compensate me for this,” he said.

I sure can’t say that I blame him. If I was a child in that same situation, I think I might join up with the resistance as soon as I was able. I have no information on what happened to that child.


Iraqi refugees to Syria and Egypt were interviewed for signs of psychological trauma. The results indicated that the levels of trauma in Iraqi far exceeded what were seen in refugees from Kosovo or Afghanistan. This study was done in late 2007, and is probably mainly done with adults. I am sure it applies to children also.

UN research indicates high levels of trauma among Iraqi refugees

Iraqi refugees in Syria are suffering from extreme levels of trauma, far higher than among refugees elsewhere from other recent conflicts, according to new figures released on 22 January by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The figures, based on interviews with 754 refugees and analysed by the US Center for Disease Control using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSC) and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ), reveal that 89.5 percent are suffering from depression, 81.6 percent from anxiety and 67.6 percent from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

…… According to the figures, 77 percent of respondents had been affected by air bombardments, shelling or rocket attacks, 80 percent had witnessed a shooting, 68 percent had undergone interrogation or harassment by militias, and 75 percent knew someone close to them who had been killed.

The following story is about Iraqi refugees in Egypt and is from February 2008. There are between 70,000 to 150,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt, which is a small number of the overall refugees from Iraq.

High rates of trauma, sickness among Iraqi refugees

Iraqi refugees, she said, had a higher rate of medical problems compared to other refugee populations, such as the Sudanese and Somalis. Iraqi children also had health problems unique to their population, which Ahlam believed were attributable to radioactive waste left over from Iraq’s war with Iran and the first Gulf War in 1991. Human horror stories exist among Iraqi refugees - from women who have lost their power of speech due to shock, to children with stunted growth, to young boys who are losing their hearing or sight.

….. Psychiatric problems are also a growing cause for alarm within the Iraqi population in Egypt, Etefa said. Post-traumatic stress is increasingly becoming a problem.


Iraqi children sometimes end up in Iraqi-run or US-run prisons. This is a horrifying and very traumatic event for the child. Here is the story of one such child.

Child prisoners left without support

He isn’t a criminal, but just the sight of a police officer terrifies 14-year-old Omar. The boy was released last month from an Iraqi prison, after being detained there for more than seven months. “They arrested me because they said I was a suspect after a car bomb exploded in a road near my home and resulted in the killing of an American,” Omar explains. He happened to be near the explosion and was arrested along with adult Iraqis suspected of the attack.

….. Omar said the experience of being in prison was terrifying, “and I was crying day and night for my family.” The trauma of the experience remains with him: “I would rather die than go there again.”

Children also end up in US-run prisons in Iraq, and the overall experience is not any better.

Iraq & Afghanistan -War Crimes Against Children

The best kept secret of the Bush's war crimes is that thousands of children have been imprisoned, tortured, and otherwise denied rights under the Geneva Conventions and related international agreements. Yet both Congress and the media have strangely failed to identify the very existence of child prisoners as a war crime. In the Islamic world, however, there is no such silence. Indeed, the prophet Mohammed was the first to counsel warriors not to harm innocent children. From jailing children together with adults in prisons where they were raped to failing to notify their parents of their arrest, the U.S. committed numerous war crimes against children in Afghanistan and Iraq, a new book on President Bush states.

"American guards videotaped Iraqi male prisoners raping young boys but took no action to stop the offenses (and) children in Abu Ghraib were deliberately frightened by dogs," writes political scientist Michael Haas in his new book, "George W. Bush, War Criminal?" (Praeger), a question he answers in the affirmative.

Ralph Lopez wrote a Daily Kos diary about the abuse of children in US prisons in Iraq (and other war crimes).

Some photos of Iraqi children and the trauma they have faced (scroll down at the link).

And another story from Iraq; Children of war

On the night of April 4, 2003, Ali Kathem, his wife Rasmiyeh and their seven children grew increasingly anxious as bombs dropped all around their civilian neighbourhood. When the windows in their home exploded, Ali loaded his family into his small taxi and made the perilous choice, in the middle of the night, to move his children to his mother's home across town. A bomb shredded the family's vehicle, burning most of its precious cargo alive. Before she succumbed to her injuries, Rasmiyeh, the devoted mother, was able to throw her youngest child, a three-month-old girl named Hawra, from the inferno. The infant was the only one to emerge unscathed. Zhara, Hawra's three-year-old sister, also survived and was transported to one of Baghdad's woefully inadequate hospitals.

…... When Jaber finally found Zhara, the little girl was covered in bandages and wrestling with septicemia. Lying in her hospital bed while doctors struggled to provide her with even the most rudimentary care, Zhara whimpered in a half-sleep for her deceased mother. "Cover me up Mama ... I'm cold," the little girl pleaded.

A story of trauma to an Afghan child.

Burnt children after a NATO bomb attack

I don't know their names, I don't even know their age. They weren't in condition to talk. They are five "presumed Taliban" arrived on Tuesday to the Emergency hospital in Lashkargah, placed in south Afghanistan. They are coming from the Kajaki area, in the eastern land of Helmand province, they travelled for hours through the dust of the desert. But to be arrived is just a great fortune. The man who brought them here told us that the bombs started falling on their settlement just Monday evening .Two of the five "presumed talebans" (or talebans whenever there is time to disguise them) are his own sons.

The three remaining ones are kuchi children, the nomads of Afghanistan. They were brought by their older sister. She doesn't have the words to tell their names and their age. She doesn't even have the words to scream her anger against the lot, the destiny ,God and maybe against all the metal monsters which wing above Afghanistan and let falling their devices to spy the houses, the settlements and the people lives, in the name of holy war against terrorism; the same war George W. Bush tells he continues on behalf of God. The children don't moan when the tweezers remove the burnt skin from their bodies. Even not a wail. Only their eyes follow the faces of nurses and doctors around them and they are looked after with real care.

And a photo of a child with those injuries is above. Photo is by Maso Notarianni at the Emergency Hospital in Lashkar Gah. This came from the RAWA website, same link as above.

And a reprint from a post done the other day on vicious injuries: A little girl in Kabul

Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Valley. At about 5 AM, bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm. With a soft, matter-of-fact voice, Guljumma described those events. Her father, Wakil Tawos Khan, sat next to her.

…… The destructiveness of this war is reality for Guljumma and her father. And for hundreds of families at Helmand Refugee Camp District 5. And, in fact, for millions of Afghan people. The violence of this war - military, economic and social - keeps destroying the future. Every day and night.

Not a damn thing has been done to help her. You can see her photo here.

Photo: Guljumma, seven years old, with her father Wakil Tawos Khan, at the Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 in Kabul on August 31, 2009. Last year, an air attack by the US military struck their home in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. She lost an arm in the bombing. (Photo copyright Reese Erlich 2009)

Some Iraqi children have undoubtedly been sold into prostitution, particularly among the refugees of Syria. There is not much that has been said about this, but I do recall a TV news story young Iraqi girls in Syria and the “survival sex” that they engaged in.

The situation is Afghanistan seems to be much worse. There are stories of children who are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery from 2007, and more recent stories of children kidnapped by local police and repeatedly raped. This last one has been reported in the last couple of months. The victims are boys, and this was something the Taliban never ignored or tolerated. This first story is from 2007.

Boys in Afghanistan Sold Into Prostitution, Sexual Slavery

Wealthy former warlords in Baghlan, a northern province of Afghanistan, recruit adolescent boys for sex and entertainment, while local authorities remain powerless in stopping the practice. A ‘bacha bereesh’ is a boy without a beard, and in several circles a beardless boy is most desired by rich, powerful male patrons. Grown men become involved in ‘bacha bazi’— which literally translates into ‘boy-play’. This is a time-honored tradition, condemned by human rights activists and Muslim clerics, but it is seeing a revival in the north province of Afghanistan. It is by no means restricted to the north of Afghanistan only, but has virtually faded in the south, where the Taliban’s strict moral code act as a deterrent.

And this story is from July, 2009.

Child Rapist Police Return Behind U.S., UK Troops

The police in the province, who are linked to the local warlord, have committed systematic abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys, according to village elders who met with British officers. Anger over those police abuses runs so high that the elders in Babaji just north of Laskgar Gah warned the British that they would support the Taliban to get rid of them if the national police were allowed to return to the area, according to a Jul. 12 report by Reuters correspondent Peter Graff.

The US military’s proposed solution is more training for the Afghan police. The above article also details how Karzai re-instated police and local politicians who are deeply involved in the drug trade and other criminal acts. I suppose they think more training will help that too.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, children are a large part of the population. Families are generally larger than what we see in the US. These children see all the horrors of war and occupation, without any resources to deal with the trauma. And the trauma we have visited on these innocent children is staggering. The trauma that has been visited on them – because of the US/NATO invasion and occupation – is even more staggering. The silence that exists around this issue is deafening.

But recovery is possible. Salee and her sister Rusul were severely injured in a US missile strike outside their home in 2006. Salee lost her legs above the knees, and Rusul lost her right foot. Their brother and another neighborhood child were killed. Almost three years have passed, but she and Rusul were brought to the US for surgery and prosthetics by No More Victims.

And today, Salee is in Los Angeles being fitted for new legs. I had the opportunity to meet both girls when they came to Greenville for treatment, and they are full of life and full of hope and full of energy. Yes, recovery is possible for a lot of the children hurt by war, even those with devastating injuries. There are pictures of Salee, and her youthful joy, on my blog.

Here are some more photos of Salee.

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

Neba tells her story

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