Iraq: Veterans and victims forging a better future
The war in Iraq is leaving thousands of children either orphaned or abandoned, with their numbers increasing as conditions in the country remain unstable and uncertain. According to UNICEF, children under 18 constitute nearly 50 percent of Iraq's population of 24 million people. One child out of four (under age five) is chronically malnourished and one out of eight dies before their fifth birthday.
Because of the abysmal condition of the country's orphanage system, a low priority for a fledging government focused mostly on security concerns, many children are living in overcrowded and understaffed orphanages - or worse, on the streets.
Orphans - While it has been estimated that there are about 5,000 orphans in Baghdad alone, current data on the actual number of orphans in the city are not available. Many of these children have lost one or both parents, whom we refer to as "traditional" orphans.
Economic Orphans and Street Kids - The economic disruption caused by the war has also created a new group of "economic orphans," who have been left to fend for themselves because their families can no longer provide for them. Thousands of these war kids are now living in Baghdad as street children, where they must resort to stealing, begging, or street crime as they root through garbage for food and sleep wherever they can.
Without a place to call home, these war children are becoming targets for recruitment into violent activities by insurgents and other extremists who have poured into Iraq. War Kids Relief not only addresses critical development needs for the next generation of Iraqi children, but also the future of Iraq itself as a functioning democracy in the Middle East.
"The coalition is spending billions in Iraq - not a penny has been allocated to the child victims of the war."
Rebuilding Hope For a Better Future
The goal of War Kids Relief is to help the children of Iraq rebound and recover from the disruptive effects of war and give them hope for a better future than the one they would face otherwise. Using the existing orphanages in Baghdad, War Kids Relief is guided by three core objectives and project elements. The program will:
- Bring together the orphanage directors to create a centrally managed network of safe havens. This network will work to improve the physical conditions of the existing facilities and also provide training to orphanage directors and caregivers. (Conditions in the orphanages are overcrowded and the physical facilities are dilapidated; in addition, caretakers lack the skills and training to provide the services needed by the children.) Ultimately, this network of safe havens will be turned over to and managed by the Iraqis themselves, who have a major stake in its success and potential replication elsewhere in the country.
- Launch a family program to begin reintegrating children back into safe family environments, thus reducing the need for their continued care within the orphanage system. This element of the program is also important because the Islamic culture tends to attribute negative stereotypes to orphans, further compounding their misfortune and low-priority status.
- Construct a Baghdad Career and Life Skills Center to provide a safe haven for older children (age 12-18) and give them a place to learn vital job and life training skills to help them become productive members of society. This Center will be networked with the orphanages in order to provide children unable to be reintegrated back into family environments with some basic skills and support for moving their lives forward. Planning and design of the Center will occur in 2006, with construction commencing in 2007.