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Iraq: Children living without limbs lack support
February 4, 2007

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BAGHDAD, 4 February (IRIN) - Fatah Barakat, 10, will never forget getting caught in crossfire between Iraqi militia fighters and US-led forces in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, a year ago. A grenade that exploded near him blew off his right leg. Now, Fatah has a habit of holding onto his left leg.

"Since I lost one of my legs, I like to make sure that the other one is still here. My mother tells me that I have to stop doing this. But it is hard for me, knowing that I will never be able to play like other children and play football as I used to do every day," Fatah said.

Fatah's life has changed dramatically since the tragic incident. His mother has stopped him from going outside because she does not want him to get injured and he is shy about having only one leg.

"Once, I was out in shorts and my friends started to laugh at me saying that I was a useless boy and could only play dominos," he said.

Fatah's mother has been frantically looking for some form of assistance for her son but all she got so far is five kilos of rice from an NGO.

"When I ask NGOs or the government for a wheelchair for my child, or to pay for surgery or even an artificial leg, they just answer me by saying that people are dying every day and others getting displaced and they don't have time to worry about just one child," Rand Muhammad, Barakat's mother, said.

"The problem is that hundreds of children are suffering in Iraq with the same problem but are not getting help from anyone. They have been put aside until the violence has been controlled and the displaced return to their homes. But until that happens, they may die or they could be seriously affected psychologically," she said.

According to Save the Children, a UK-based NGO, many children were killed or injured in the initial US-led invasion of Iraq in April and March 2003. The NGO said the injured children continue to suffer the effects of the conflict, have become more vulnerable to chronic diseases and lack assistance.

The exact number of children living without limbs in Iraq, as a result of the war and the daily violence countrywide, is not known. However, local NGOs estimate that they must be in the thousands.

"Every explosion, air strike, fighting or targeting in Iraq makes a child injured. In addition, we cannot forget the remaining UXOs [unexploded ordnance] whose victims are mostly children," Khalid Ala'a, spokesman for local NGO Keeping Children Alive (KCA), said.

"If you make a summation of all these children, they are going to be thousands and we cannot forget that the number of them killed since April 2003 by diseases, explosions or bullets, has reached 260,000," Ala'a added.

There is much discrepancy on the total number of Iraqis, including children, who have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003.

At the higher end of the scale are the estimates produced in the Lancet Report, published on 11 October 2006. Conducted by Johns Hopkins University in the US in conjunction with Mustansiriyah University in Iraq, the survey contended that more than 600,000 Iraqis had been killed since 2003 as a result of the war.

At the lower end of the scale are estimates by NGO Iraq Body Count, which puts the war-related death toll at around 60,000 since 2003.

The Iraqi government's figures are closer to Iraq Body Count's. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said that a lack of funds has delayed projects for disabled children and adults.

"Each year, the budget for such projects has decreased. Our ministry and local NGOs are finding it difficult to cope with the problem. When people seek our help and we cannot support them, they get angry with us. We are trying to support them but without money it is very difficult," said Mowafaq Abdul-Raoof, a spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, adding that corruption was a major obstacle in the Iraqi government.

Psychologists have warned that Iraq is also short of funds for programmes for to help disabled children accept their disability.

"First of all, these children who lost their limbs need urgent psychological help. They consider themselves useless," Ala'a al-Sahaddi, vice-president of the Association of Iraqi Psychologists, said.

"Psychological programmes are indispensable. We have tried to help some children but we cannot afford a long-term project as we don't have a budget for that and we urge the Ministry of Health to open their eyes to so serious a problem," al-Sahaddi added.

Without money and support, the increasing numbers of disabled children in Iraq often live confined to their homes by their parents.

"We are a poor family. My husband is unemployed and I never worked in my life. We need money for the treatment of my child because the public health system is very bad," said Saluwa Waleed, 38, whose son nine-year-old son Sarmad lost his right arm in crossfire between insurgents and US-led forces in Fallujah two years ago.

"We cannot afford to get him transport to go to school and one of the teachers told us that it is better to keep him at home because after he lost his arm he cannot write well and with the other one he is slow, so will just delay the progress of other students," Saluwa added.

"Sarmad cries every day, asking me to bring back his arm or buy a new one. He cannot accept the idea of losing what he had. He was going to be a good painter. He loves to paint figures but now he cannot even hold a pen," she said.

Original Text