Millions of children in Iraq only know a country in turmoil.

Four decades of insecurity have shaped their lives from the moment they were born. For many, surviving the violence is just the beginning. Here are six ways this conflict will leave more than physical scars.

Torn away from family

Safety in Iraq is unpredictable and fleeting. Multiple armed factions put people of every ethnicity and background in danger - killing and injuring thousands, trapping civilians under siege and forcing millions away from their homes.
Furas lost part of his leg in a suicide bombing after a football game in March 2016. “I am a huge fan of football but I don’t know what my future holds after I lost my leg,” the 17-year-old says. © UNICEF/UNI204057/Khuzaie

Almost ten per cent of the country’s children have been forced to flee their homes due to violence since the beginning of 2014, often moving multiple times to seek safety. In the chaos of displacement, children are incredibly vulnerable to abduction, trafficking and being separated from their families. On average, 50 children have been abducted each month since 2014 and thousands more displaced without the support of their family and community.

12 year-old Fadhil’s* family escaped heavy bombing and fighting in Baiji, Iraq, by walking for seven hours to Turkey. The terrifying journey got worse when Fadhil was separated from his family for hours in the dark.
Fadhil was separated from his family as they fled violence. After hours in the dark, he found them again. © UNICEF/UNI204108/Yar

Thankfully, they’ve been reunited and now live together in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Many children aren’t as lucky.

As the violence continues to displace thousands of people from cities like Mosul, efforts to keep children safe are more important than ever. UNICEF is working to protect 38,559 children in Iraq in 2016 by tracing their parents, reuniting families and providing alternative care.
* name changed

Young minds haunted by violence

Conflict is exposing children in Iraq to daily horrors.

The psychological impact of living through violence lasts a lifetime. An assessment in the Kurdistan region found 76 per cent of children had changes in behaviour like unusual crying and screaming, nightmares, antisocial and aggressive behaviour.

“The glass doors in my house shattered in
the bombings. I don’t like airplanes. They
are loud and they make me scared. I think
about it now and I cry a lot. Sometimes I
can’t sleep. I want to stay beside my dad.
Children who deserve to play, laugh and choose their own future are slipping into a spiral of despair and darkness. UNICEF is working tirelessly to help these children build resilience and recover from what they’ve experienced. We plan to reach over 206,000 children in Iraq with ongoing psychosocial care this year alone.

Forced to work too young

The combined impact of violence, displacement and economic insecurity has forced children out of school and into labour. More than 575,000 children in Iraq are estimated to be working today - double the amount in 1990.
15 year-old Omar was forced to drop out of school and take up hazardous mechanical work in an industrial area of Baghdad. © UNICEF/UN020106/Khuzaie

“I left school when I was in my tenth grade,” says Omar. “My father was abducted in front of our house in 2007, so I have to work to support my family”.

Boys Omar’s age are also forced onto the front lines of the conflict, including as combatants or suicide bombers.

UNICEF is dedicated to keeping children in school, especially in emergencies. This year we’re working to reach 650,000 displaced children with the supplies they need to stay in class, safe from exploitation and violence.

Trapped in child marriage

Violence and loss of family income - the same factors that force children to work - also make girls particularly vulnerable to child marriage. 975,000 girls in Iraq today were married before they turned 15 - twice as many as in 1990.

Marrying too young robs a girl of her childhood. She’s more likely to leave school early, suffer from health issues and be a victim of domestic violence. Child marriage victims are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy or childbirth and have children who are stillborn or die very young.

UNICEF is tackling child marriage at a global scale - working with governments, communities and families to help girls create of a future of their own making. In Iraq, we support girls with specialised care for gender-based violence including child marriage. We’ll reach 12,000 women and girls with these services in 2016.
A girl in Mosul stares at the camera A girl in Mosul stares at the camera
A girl in Mosul stares at the camera

No child too far

UNICEF relies on donations to reach children in crisis and poverty. Sign up in minutes to have a lifetime impact on children.

You can reach children with the food, water and medicine they need to survive a crisis by starting a monthly gift to UNICEF. Your ongoing contribution helps children fleeing violence, rebuilding after a disaster and breaking out of poverty. 

No way to grow

Conflict robs children of the chance to grow into adulthood healthy and happy. Undernutrition, poor maternal health and disease have left almost one in four children in Iraq with stunting - an irreversible condition that stops their physical and cognitive growth.

Mothers in Iraq are unlikely to breastfeed exclusively. 80 per cent of babies depend on additional milk and other liquids. UNICEF runs ‘baby huts’ to give these expecting and new mothers breastfeeding counselling, monitor the growth of their babies and raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

As they grow, children in Iraq are also often unable to receive the nutritional support they need to thrive. Up to three quarters of families displaced inside Iraq say they’re short of food. In 2016 alone, UNICEF will reach 434,000 children with health screening and treatment, as well as help 14,655 families buy essentials from local markets with direct cash transfers.

Unprotected from deadly disease

Conflict zones set the perfect conditions for preventable diseases to thrive: children often live in crowded, informal areas or under siege conditions where they can’t be immunised.
Drop by drop, we can eradicate polio. UNICEF helps the Iraqi government run vaccination drives that reach local, displaced and refugee children. © UNICEF/UN025438/Khuzaie

UNICEF is determined to prevent an outbreak of polio in Iraq. We’re acting urgently in high-risk areas like Mosul where children trapped under ISIL’s rule haven’t been vaccinated in two years. As they escape into crowded camps, we’re racing to vaccinate every child and prevent the kind of outbreaks that can grip a nation in crisis. Across the country, we’ll help immunise 5.9 million children against the threat of polio this year.

Be there for children in crisis and beyond

In Iraq, Syria and all around the world, crisis and poverty rob children of their right to learn, play and grow up healthy. UNICEF is working to reach every child who needs us but our teams and resources are stretched to the limit. For too many children, time is running out.

Your monthly gift can make an immediate and lasting impact. With regular support, UNICEF can keep teams on the ground to support children in conflict, meeting urgent needs for health care, nutrition and education. Reliable funds help UNICEF give children safe spaces to play, learn and receive psychosocial support, whether they're in war zones, refugee camps or new homes. Your ongoing support would help UNICEF plan ahead and be on the ground as soon as emergency strikes.
You can make this possible. By starting a monthly gift, you can join our Global Parents in making a powerful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we’ll give them a life, a chance, a choice.

UNICEF relies on donations from individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. We don't receive any funding from the UN. In 2015, 77 cents from every dollar we raised went directly to our work for children, 15 cents was invested in fundraising to make your gift go further and just 8 cents was spent on essential administrative costs. Find out more.


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