AMMAN/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 22 June 2007 - UNICEF said today that the discovery and broadcast images of children in a Baghdad orphanage suffering horrific neglect and abuse is evidence that the welfare of Iraq's orphaned and vulnerable children is seriously under threat.
"Even in a country overshadowed by daily scenes of violence, these images are truly shocking. Making children suffer in this way is totally unacceptable," said UNICEF Representative for Iraq, Roger Wright.
The ongoing conflict and displacement are now putting the welfare of all children at risk, particularly those orphaned. Families struggling to feed and educate their own children are increasingly unable to take on others. A concurrent decline in the number of qualified child-care workers in Iraq makes it harder to provide institutionalized children with the necessary quality of support. This is particularly true for children with special needs, who are probably the most vulnerable of all Iraqis.
UNICEF welcomes Prime Minister Nuri El Maliki's call for a national enquiry into the conditions of children in orphanages, and urges the Government of Iraq to enable a rapid assessment of all the country's orphanages and juvenile centres as soon as possible. An open monitoring system for the management of children's institutions is a top priority, as well as improving the skills of care-givers and accelerating community-based childcare alternatives.
UNICEF also acknowledges the tremendous determination of the majority of the Iraqi people to extend helping hands and to protect children, and urges for this to continue. Families and immediate caregivers are children's first line of defence against exploitation and abuse. In such times of conflict and crisis, their commitment is more critical than ever to keep children safe from harm.
"Caring for children is our primary responsibility as human beings, no matter what the circumstances," said Wright. "I hope these terrible images from the Baghdad orphanage will spur us all on to do even more for Iraq's children."
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For more information, please contact:
Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Iraq, +962 7969 26190
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York, 1 212 326 7426
Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva, 41 22 909 5716