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UNICEF: War has taken a toll on Iraq's children
McClatchy Newspapers
By Jamie Gumbrecht | McClatchy Newspapers
December 21, 2007

BAGHDAD — More than four years after the United States invaded Iraq, the country's children continue to face a litany of problems from disrupted educations to unsafe drinking water, detentions and violence, UNICEF reported Friday.

Violence and displacement often kept Iraqi children out of school this year. The organization estimates that 2 million educations were interrupted, especially among primary-school students.

The report says that only 28 percent of 17-year-olds in Iraq took final exams this summer, and fewer than half passed. However, UNICEF-supported programs to distribute classroom materials, rebuild schools and provide more learning opportunities benefited 4.7 million children, the agency reported.

Health took a hit, too, as children living in remote areas were faced with poor nutrition and diseases such as cholera. Those living in remote areas were often cut off from health services, although a door-to-door immunization campaign protected 4 million from polio and 3 million from measles, mumps and rubella.

The full report, based on statistics from UNICEF, Iraq's government and the U.S. military, will be released in early 2008.

UNICEF spokeswoman Claire Hajaj said the United Nations children's agency is better poised to help next year, thanks to security improvements, better organization among aid groups and more awareness of the issues facing Iraqi children.

"Improved security does not equal secure, but it has lifted people's spirits here," Hajaj said. "Humanitarian agencies are working in Iraq now, capitalizing on the ability to work together. There's a renewed will and recognition of humanitarian needs in Iraq."

Among the preliminary report's findings:

  • Twenty-eight percent of Iraq's 17-year-olds took final exams this summer; 40 percent in south and central Iraq passed.
  • Eighty percent of children outside Baghdad don't have working sewers in their communities, limiting access to safe water.
  • An average of 25,000 children per month were displaced within Iraq by violence or intimidation.
  • An estimated 760,000 children were out of primary school in 2006, and 220,000 more displaced children had their educations interrupted in 2007.
  • By the end of 2007, about 75,000 children were living in camps or temporary shelter.
  • About 1,350 children were detained by military and police, "many for alleged security violations."

(Gumbrecht reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.)

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