Children of war
Published on December 1, 2013
ORPHANED: His mother, father, sister, two brothers and an aunt: All dead. The price of war for five-year-old Neal when the vehicle he was riding in failed to stop at a checkpoint five miles from Baghdad. After losing everyone, he was given shelter by an Iraqi NGO and is now in the process of getting a new home in Dubai with the Burns. Says Peter Burns, a civil engineer from South Africa, who works as a consultant in Dubai’s construction industry, “We were desperate to have children, and when we came to know about Neal through a friend in Iraq, we lost no time.”
STIGMATISED: Four-year-old Retaj has been diagnosed
with Ichthyosis (a dermatological condition caused by genetic abnormalities). Her dry outer skin exfoliates like a fish, swells and sticks out of her body. From head to toe, her entire body is infected. While there is no cure for her disease, Retaj is stigmatised by other children. “They don’t want to play with her because they think she looks weird. This bothers her a lot,” says her mother, adding, “I can only use Petroleum Jelly…. but I’ve had to keep her without that for months because of the war… Iraq is a 24-hour war zone. The weapons used by the troops have polluted the air immensely. Ever since Retaj came to Abu Dhabi, her skin has felt better without any medication. The air is a lot better in the UAE.”
TERMINALLY ILL: Anis Khaleel, 17, from Baqubah (Iraq) has a congenital heart disease that hinders the flow of oxygen in his frail body. His lips, fingers and feet are blue because his valves and arteries are not functioning properly. Anis and his father have travelled to the emirates in search of medical assistance. Informs Ahmed Khaleel, “Last year, we approached an Iraqi NGO and gave them Anis’s medical reports. In nine months’ time, we managed to arrive in the UAE for his treatment.” According to the UNICEF, “There are more that 300,000 Iraqi children born with deformities with several of them needing major surgeries.”
DEATH: John Sloboda, Executive Director, Oxford Research Group, UK, who has been involved in the ‘Iraq Body Count’ report, says, Kudair Hazber Razaq, Senior Physician at a hospital in Nasiriyah, witnessed terrible sights in his hospital: an 11-year-old boy, with a tiny chest wound, who took almost an hour to die; a mother who arrived at his hospital trying to push her three-year-old daughter’s liver back into the child’s ripped abdomen. “Nearly one in 10 of those killed in Iraq is under 18. Nearly one in 200 of those killed is a baby aged zero-two, while most adult victims are parents leaving behind orphans,” Sloboda adds. Fifty warring nations; over 28 million displaced children caught in armed conflicts — not just as bystanders, but as deliberate targets. Tortured, drugged, robbed, raped, and repeatedly subjected to barbaric physical, psychological and sexual assaults, these innocent little victims are often forced to participate in combats and die! Yes, though it’s shocking, according to the United Nations, 50 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children live in war zones, while 58 groups in 13 countries are still using children in conflicts. Says Trish Hiddleston, Former Regional Protection Adviser, Middle East and North Africa, UNICEF, and currently Member Columbia University Technical Review Team on child protection systems in emergencies at Child Protection in Crisis Network and Senior Protection Officer-ProCap Roster at United Nations, “War-affected children are either compelled to kill or witness the killings of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbours. Their families, schools, and neighbourhoods are not only destroyed, they are often forced to become child soldiers and land up serving as porters, spies, cooks, messengers and sex slaves.” Adds Matthew Morgan-Jones, Country Director and the founder of All As One — a charity in Dubai that runs an orphanage for children in Sierra Leone, “The over-decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, funded by corruption and the ‘blood’ diamond trade, has devastated the nation’s children. With an estimated 340,000 orphans, Sierra Leone has the world’s worst infant mortality rate — 28 per cent of all children — or roughly one in four — die before they turn five.”
WAR AND ITS EFFECTS ON CHILDREN
Says Sara Lowndes Rostek, a teacher who took UAE’s first peace painting created by Dubai British School students to Athens (Greece) for the Kids’ Guernica project — a global art initiative aimed at teaching youth about the destructive nature of war and the importance of peace, “War-affected children suffer from a wide range of symptoms such as nightmares, developmental delays, lack of appetite and learning difficulties.” Adds Dr Khaled Al-Jaberi, Former Medical Director, Al Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi, where war-affected children from Iraq are treated, “Children often have war injuries. Some of the diseases they have are congenital because of air pollution. But children are most affected psychologically. Caught in the midst of fighting, they are in a state of constant shock and see blood and damage all over.”
Interestingly, no one in Iraq wants children anymore because they don’t want them to suffer from untreatable diseases caused by wars. Take Sierra Leone for instance. Say Morgan-Jones, “Innocent children have become disabled, disfigured, orphaned, abused, abandoned or completely destitute in the aftermath of the bloody war. Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence like rape, sexual mutilation, forced prostitution
etc. Today, there is an increased risk of exposure to HIV and AIDS.”
Doctors in Iraq have thanked the UAE government for helping the injured children. According to Dr Haydar Abdel-Kareem at Medical City Hospital in Baghdad, “Injured children require urgent plastic surgery or physiotherapy after losing limbs, which Iraq cannot offer. In the UAE, these children get proper treatment.” Says Dr al-Jaberi, “While some need surgery or medical attention, others need rehabilitation and social therapy.” Al Mafraq Hospital and the Red Crescent work together to care for war-injured children. Informs Fathia al-Mezary, Head of First Aid and Community Safety, UAE Red Crescent Society, “Psychological support is given to all children.” Under His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, the UAE has been rehabilitating 100 Iraqi children who have sustained physical and psychological injuries in the Iraq conflict. These children get treatment for blood cancer and skin diseases resulting from the chemical weapons used in the past.
Says Morgan-Jones, “We can choose to live in a bubble in Dubai. In fact, it’s easy to forget about poverty elsewhere. But, All As One has received tremendous help from Dubai expatriates, schools, children and the government. In fact, Dubai has done much to make a huge difference in the lives of our children!” All As One launched a unique ‘four dirhams a day’ concept. According to Morgan-Jones, “Sierra Leone is the world’s poorest country, while Dubai is one of the richest nations in the world. Giving just Dh4 a day (Dh120 a month) for a year will help sponsor children. The orphaned children, from newborn to age 16, have survived terrible tragedies or experienced horrible atrocities which most of us may never imagine. This support can help us build a better future for these children who have nowhere else to go.” Morgan-Jones himself is a single father of four adopted toddlers from war-torn Sierra Leone.
CHILDREN FOR CHILDREN
Says Rostek, former teacher of DBS, “The Kids’ Guernica is an amazing grassroots initiative in more than 30 countries. While we were working on the painting, students learnt why there is violence in the world and how we can try to stop it.” One Year 9 class raised Dh3,500 for All As One. Says Morgan-Jones, “If 10 classes can do that, it may cover the running costs for the orphanage for a month. Indeed, the response from schools has been brilliant. I’d like to educate and inform children more on Sierra Leone. Many schools are keen to get involved. When children help other children, it teaches them to be compassionate, and that’s a wonderful thing.” A number of children in Dubai heard about the charity and decided to do their bit to help, asking their teachers to help coordinate fund-raising and collection of donations.
STOP WAR AND RESCUE CHILDREN
The cases mentioned above are facts and not fictions. Some of them have already been reported in the media by IRIN, UNICEF, War Child etc. Organisations like All As One, the UAE government, Dubai residents and expats are doing their bits. A number of international legal standards protecting children from the horrors of combats have also emerged. Despite these, thousands of children continue to die in wars or keep serving as fighters, cooks, porters and sex slaves. More needs to be done. Can we come together and pledge for a common goal to save our future — our little angles on earth?
During a visit by IRIN to the Gaza Strip on a school day, over 10 rockets landed in the city between in one-and-a-half hour. Every time rockets
triggered the warning siren — the now infamous ‘Tseva Adom’ or ‘Red Colour’ system — the children ran for cover. According to a resident there, the siren gives people between zero and 15 seconds to find cover — “and most of the time it’s closer to zero”. “Not long ago, I was in Siddon, Lebanon at a
children’s playground. The sound of fireworks, set off in celebration of a child’s birthday, sent other kids running and screaming… the sound reminded them of war… of blood, bombs and death,” says Kate Brooks, a reputed war-photographer. “Children across Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Occupied Territories are traumatised by what they have witnessed and suffered.”
1. Do you know any child who has been a victim of war?
2. How can you help such children who have been victims of war?
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