Almost a decade after the 2003 Coalition invasion, Iraq is still one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced. Tens of thousands of children have lost parents and siblings. 

Services in many areas are barely, if at all, functional. The country has lost many of its doctors and teachers. Day by day more children are unable to go to school. Every fifth child shows signs of stunted growth, an indication of malnutrition.

Ongoing and daily brutality is having a devastating effect on a generation of children. From kidnapping to bombs to blows from an angry, anxious parent, up to half of children suffer from violence.

We are one of a handful of international agencies working with Iraqi communities, local organisations, schools and government to establish a system of protection for Iraq’s children.

Luca Kleve-Ruud

A group of boys playing with tank wrecks from the war outside Basra, Iraq. Image: Luca Kleve-Ruud

"99.9% of Iraqis want what the rest of the world wants: an education for their children, a job and safety. 

"I am amazed by the fact that parents still send their children to school in places like Baghdad, knowing every day that something might happen to them." - Jonathan Cunliffe, Iraq country director

Key facts

  • We were a leading humanitarian agency in the aftermath of the 2003 Coalition invasion, remaining operational throughout the conflict and transporting more than 20,000 children to school, and rebuilding schools, paediatric hospitals and primary health centres.
  • Today we work in Baghdad, northern Iraq and southern Iraq. Our staff operate regularly in the field.
  • Our new report shows that more than two-thirds of children surveyed remember experiencing violence.
  • In 2010 we helped 66,000 children.

The challenges

The stories of violence against children in Iraq fill you with horror. A ten-year-old boy forced to watch a film of his father’s beheading. Children witnessing their parents’ dismembering. Children risking bombs or held at checkpoints as they walk to school.

Nearly a decade of conflict and war, in addition to the cost of the Saddam regime and sanctions, has made children’s daily lives almost unbearably harsh. Our new survey of 5,000 children, carried out with UNICEF, shows that up to half of Iraqi children have been directly affected by violence. 

In Umm Qasr and Al Thagar, two communities near Basra where we are rebuilding the water systems in schools and communities, children navigate piles of rubbish and stagnant water on their way to school.

Once they get there they are faced with broken windows, litter, splintered desks, no electricity, doors hanging by nailsand a complete lack of running water - making cleanliness, let alone flushing toilets, impossible. When the school day ends, children return to houses that are surrounded by mountains of rubbish and open sewage lines.

What we’ve achieved

We are one of few international agencies working in Iraq and we do so without armed protection. This is only thanks to our strong roots in the community, and our constant care to ensure that our staff are safe. 

  • In Umm Qasr and Al Thagar, we’re improving infrastructure, water supplies and sanitation in 25 schools to help more than 8,400 primary and secondary students, and improving health facilities for 31,000 children. Roughly 42,000 children and young people will benefit from better community water facilities and practices by the end of this major two-year project.
  • We’re working with Iraqi NGOs, other international agencies and the government to create the country’s first nationwide system of protection. We created more than 100 child-friendly spaces in 2010, giving children a chance to play safely, and we reached nearly 40,000 children through child protection committees. 
  • As part of a system of caring for children affected by violence, we train teachers to notice children showing sign of distress and then refer them. 
  • We work closely with communities and have created a nationwide network of more than 100 organisations, the Iraqi Child Rights Network, that work together in a voluntary capacity to promote the rights of children across all of Iraq. 

What’s urgent

In a country that once had the best health and education in the Middle East, infant mortality in the south of the country is now on a par with that of Zimbabwe or Eritrea. Water systems are in a state of collapse. Between one in four and one in five children die before they reach five.

Support for education is vital, not least for the rising numbers of working children, if Iraq is to have a viable future. We aim to get more children into school, new classrooms built, and teachers trained in 2011.

As the conflict continues, violence and abuse become even more commonplace. A system of protection which extends to every child is decades away, but we must take the small steps towards that aim now. 

You can help 

Support our work to create a protection system, working with other international agencies, Iraqi organisations and the Ministry of Social Affairs.